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Title: The Everlasting Man
Author: G.K. Chesterton
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Language:   English
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Title:      The Everlasting Man
Author:     G.K. Chesterton

Prefatory Note
Introduction: The Plan of This Book


    I The Man in the Cave
   II Professors and Prehistoric Men
  III The Antiquity of Civilisation
   IV God and Comparative Religion
    V Man and Mythologies
   VI Demons and Philosophers
  VII The War of the Gods and Demons
 VIII The End of the World


    I The God in the Cave
   II The Riddles of the Gospel
  III The Strangest Story in the World
   IV The Witness of the Heretics
    V The Escape from Paganism
   VI The Five Deaths of the Faith


Appendix I.  On Prehistoric Man
Appendix II. On Authority and Accuracy

* * *


This book needs a preliminary note that its scope be not misunderstood
The view suggested is historical rather than theological, and does not
deal directly with a religious change which has been the chief event of
my own life; and about which I am already writing a more purely
controversial volume. It is impossible, I hope, for any Catholic to
write any book on any subject, above all this subject, without showing
that he is a Catholic; but this study is not specially concerned with
the differences between a Catholic and a Protestant. Much of it is
devoted to many sorts of Pagans rather than any sort of Christians; and
its thesis is that those who say that Christ stands side by side with
similar myths, and his religion side by side with similar religions, are
only repeating a very stale formula contradicted by a very striking
fact. To suggest this I have not needed to go much beyond matters known
to us all; I make no claim to learning; and have to depend for some
things, as has rather become the fashion, on those who are more learned.
As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of
history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the
courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and
varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted
the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts
which the specialists provide.

* * *



There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there.
The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same
place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote. It
is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I
never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I
have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it,
so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same
truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping
sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are
scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm
or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find
something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was
far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and
kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and
quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on
which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be
seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really
independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.

The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to
being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. And a
particular point of it is that the popular critics of Christianity are
not really outside it. They are on a debatable ground, in every sense of
the term. They are doubtful in their very doubts. Their criticism has
taken on a curious tone; as of a random and illiterate heckling. Thus
they make current and anti-clerical cant as a sort of small-talk. They
will complain of parsons dressing like parsons; as if we should be any
more free if all the police who shadowed or collared us were plain
clothes detectives. Or they will complain that a sermon cannot be
interrupted, and call a pulpit a coward's castle; though they do not
call an editor's office a coward's castle. It would be unjust both to
journalists and priests; but it would be much truer of journalist. The
clergyman appears in person and could easily be kicked as he came out of
church; the journalist conceals even his name so that nobody can kick
him. They write wild and pointless articles and letters in the press
about why the churches are empty, without even going there to find out
if they are empty, or which of them are empty. Their suggestions are
more vapid and vacant than the most insipid curate in a three-act farce,
and move us to comfort him after the manner of the curate in the Bab
Ballads; 'Your mind is not so blank as that of Hopley Porter.' So we may
truly say to the very feeblest cleric: 'Your mind is not so blank as
that of Indignant Layman or Plain Man or Man in the Street, or any of
your critics in the newspapers; for they have not the most shadowy
notion of what they want themselves. Let alone of what you ought to give
them.' They will suddenly turn round and revile the Church for not
having prevented the War, which they themselves did not want to prevent;
and which nobody had ever professed to be able to prevent, except some
of that very school of progressive and cosmopolitan sceptics who are the
chief enemies of the Church. It was the anti-clerical and agnostic world
that was always prophesying the advent of universal peace; it is that
world that was, or should have been, abashed and confounded by the
advent of universal war. As for the general view that the Church was
discredited by the War--they might as well say that the Ark was
discredited by the Flood. When the world goes wrong, it proves rather
that the Church is right. The Church is justified, not because her
children do not sin, but because they do. But that marks their mood
about the whole religious tradition they are in a state of reaction
against it. It is well with the boy when he lives on his father's land;
and well with him again when he is far enough from it to look back on it
and see it as a whole. But these people have got into an intermediate
state, have fallen into an intervening valley from which they can see
neither the heights beyond them nor the heights behind. They cannot get
out of the penumbra of Christian controversy. They cannot be Christians
and they can not leave off being Anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere
is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism.
They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of
the faith.

Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love
it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the
contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a
Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian.
The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements;
the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered
agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood
the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows
not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard. He does
not judge Christianity calmly as a Confucian would; he does not judge it
as he would judge Confucianism. He cannot by an effort of fancy set the
Catholic Church thousands of miles away in strange skies of morning and
judge it as impartially as a Chinese pagoda. It is said that the great
St. Francis Xavier, who very nearly succeeded in setting up the Church
there as a tower overtopping all pagodas, failed partly because his
followers were accused by their fellow missionaries of representing the
Twelve Apostles with the garb or attributes of Chinamen. But it would be
far better to see them as Chinamen, and judge them fairly as Chinamen,
than to see them as featureless idols merely made to be battered by
iconoclasts; or rather as cockshies to be pelted by empty-handed
cockneys. It would be better to see the whole thing as a remote Asiatic
cult; the mitres of its bishops as the towering head dresses of
mysterious bonzes; its pastoral staffs as the sticks twisted like
serpents carried in some Asiatic procession; to see the prayer book as
fantastic as the prayer-wheel and the Cross as crooked as the Swastika.
Then at least we should not lose our temper as some of the sceptical
critics seem to lose their temper, not to mention their wits. Their
anti-clericalism has become an atmosphere, an atmosphere of negation and
hostility from which they cannot escape. Compared with that, it would be
better to see the whole thing as something belonging to another
continent, or to another planet. It would be more philosophical to stare
indifferently at bonzes than to be perpetually and pointlessly grumbling
at bishops. It would be better to walk past a church as if it were a
pagoda than to stand permanently in the porch, impotent either to go
inside and help or to go outside and forget. For those in whom a mere
reaction has thus become an obsession, I do seriously recommend the
imaginative effort of conceiving the Twelve Apostles as Chinamen. In
other words, I recommend these critics to try to do as much justice to
Christian saints as if they were Pagan sages.

But with this we come to the final and vital point I shall try to show
in these pages that when we do make this imaginative effort to see the
whole thing from the outside, we find that it really looks like what is
traditionally said about it inside. It is exactly when the boy gets far
enough off to see the giant that he sees that he really is a giant. It
is exactly when we do at last see the Christian Church afar under those
clear and level eastern skies that we see that it is really the Church
of Christ. To put it shortly, the moment we are really impartial about
it, we know why people are partial to it. But this second proposition
requires more serious discussion; and I shall here set myself to discuss

As soon as I had clearly in my mind this conception of something solid
in the solitary and unique character of the divine story, it struck me
that there was exactly the same strange and yet solid character in the
human story that had led up to it; because that human story also had a
root that was divine. I mean that just as the Church seems to grow more
remarkable when it is fairly compared with the common religious life of
mankind, so mankind itself seems to grow more remarkable when we compare
it with the common life of nature. And I have noticed that most modern
history is driven to something like sophistry, first to soften the sharp
transition from animals to men, and then to soften the sharp transition
from heathens to Christians. Now the more we really read in a realistic
spirit of those two transitions the sharper we shall find them to be. It
is because the critics are not detached that they do not see this
detachment; it is because they are not looking at things in a dry light
that they cannot see the difference between black and white. It is
because they are in a particular mood of reaction and revolt that they
have a motive for making out that all the white is dirty grey and the
black not so black as it is painted. I do not say there are not human
excuses for their revolt; I do not say it is not in some ways
sympathetic; what I say is that it is not in any way scientific. An
iconoclast may be indignant; an iconoclast may be justly indignant; but
an iconoclast is not impartial. And it is stark hypocrisy to pretend
that nine-tenths of the higher critics and scientific evolutionists and
professors of comparative religion are in the least impartial. Why
should they be impartial, what is being impartial, when the whole world
is at war about whether one thing is a devouring superstition or a
divine hope? I do not pretend to be impartial in the sense that the
final act of faith fixes a man's mind because it satisfies his mind. But
I do profess to be a great deal more impartial than they are; in the
sense that I can tell the story fairly, with some sort of imaginative
justice to all sides; and they cannot. I do profess to be impartial in
the sense that I should be ashamed to talk such nonsense about the Lama
of Thibet as they do about the Pope of Rome, or to have as little
sympathy with Julian the Apostate as they have with the Society of
Jesus. They are not impartial; they never by any chance hold the
historical scales even; and above all they are never impartial upon this
point of evolution and transition. They suggest everywhere the grey
gradations of twilight, because they believe it is the twilight of the
gods. I propose to maintain that whether or no it is the twilight of
gods, it is not the daylight of men.

I maintain that when brought out into the daylight these two things look
altogether strange and unique; and that it is only in the false twilight
of an imaginary period of transition that they can be made to look in
the least like anything else. The first of these is the creature called
man and the second is the man called Christ. I have therefore divided
this book into two parts: the former being a sketch of the main
adventure of the human race in so far as it remained heathen; and the
second a summary of the real difference that was made by it becoming
Christian. Both motives necessitate a certain method, a method which is
not very easy to manage, and perhaps even less easy to define or defend.

In order to strike, in the only sane or possible sense, the note of
impartiality, it is necessary to touch the nerve of novelty. I mean that
in one sense we see things fairly when we see them first. That, I may
remark in passing, is why children generally have very little difficulty
about the dogmas of the Church. But the Church, being a highly practical
thing for working and fighting, is necessarily a thing for men and not
merely for children. There must be in it for working purposes a great
deal of tradition, of familiarity, and even of routine. So long as its
fundamentals are sincerely felt, this may even be the saner condition.
But when its fundamentals are doubted, as at present, we must try to
recover the candour and wonder of the child; the unspoilt realism and
objectivity of innocence. Or if we cannot do that, we must try at least
to shake off the cloud of mere custom and see the thing as new, if only
by seeing it as unnatural. Things that may well be familiar so long as
familiarity breeds affection had much better become unfamiliar when
familiarity breeds contempt. For in connection with things so great as
are here considered, whatever our view of them, contempt must be a
mistake. Indeed contempt must be an illusion. We must invoke the most
wild and soaring sort of imagination; the imagination that can see what
is there.

The only way to suggest the point is by an example of something, indeed
of almost anything, that has been considered beautiful or wonderful.
George Wyndham once told me that he had seen one of the first aeroplanes
rise for the first time and it was very wonderful but not so wonderful
as a horse allowing a man to ride on him. Somebody else has said that a
fine man on a fine horse is the noblest bodily object in the world. Now,
so long as people feel this in the right way, all is well. The first and
best way of appreciating it is to come of people with a tradition of
treating animals properly; of men in the right relation to horses. A boy
who remembers his father who rode a horse, who rode it well and treated
it well, will know that the relation can be satisfactory and will be
satisfied. He will be all the more indignant at the ill-treatment of
horses because he knows how they ought to be treated; but he will see
nothing but what is normal in a man riding on a horse. He will not
listen to the great modern philosopher who explains to him that the
horse ought to be riding on the man. He will not pursue the pessimist
fancy of Swift and say that men must be despised as monkeys and horses
worshipped as gods. And horse and man together making an image that is
to him human and civilised, it will be easy, as it were, to lift horse
and man together into something heroic or symbolical; like a vision of
St. George in the clouds. The fable of the winged horse will not be
wholly unnatural to him: and he will know why Ariosto set many a
Christian hero in such an airy saddle, and made him the rider of the
sky. For the horse has really been lifted up along with the man in the
wildest fashion in the very word we use when we speak 'chivalry.' The
very name of the horse has been given to the highest mood and moment of
the man; so that we might almost say that the handsomest compliment to a
man is to call him a horse.

But if a man has got into a mood in which he is not able to feel this
sort of wonder, then his cure must begin right at the other end. We must
now suppose that he has drifted into a dull mood, in which somebody
sitting on a horse means no more than somebody sitting on a chair. The
wonder of which Wyndham spoke, the beauty that made the thing seem an
equestrian statue, the meaning of the more chivalric horseman, may have
become to him merely a convention and a bore. Perhaps they have been
merely a fashion; perhaps they have gone out of fashion; perhaps they
have been talked about too much or talked about in the wrong way;
perhaps it was then difficult to care for horses without the horrible
risk of being horsy. Anyhow, he has got into a condition when he cares
no more for a horse than for a towel-horse. His grandfather's charge at
Balaclava seems to him as dull and dusty as the album containing such
family portraits. Such a person has not really become enlightened about
the album; on the contrary, he has only become blind with the dust. But
when he has reached that degree of blindness, he will not be able to
look at a horse or a horseman at all until he has seen the whole thing
as a thing entirely unfamiliar and almost unearthly.

Out of some dark forest under some ancient dawn there must come towards
us, with lumbering yet dancing motions, one of the very queerest of the
prehistoric creatures. We must see for the first time the strangely
small head set on a neck not only longer but thicker than itself, as the
face of a gargoyle is thrust out upon a gutter-spout, the one
disproportionate crest of hair running along the ridge of that heavy
neck like a beard in the wrong place; the feet, each like a solid club
of horn, alone amid the feet of so many cattle; so that the true fear is
to be found in showing, not the cloven, but the uncloven hoof. Nor is it
mere verbal fancy to see him thus as a unique monster; for in a sense a
monster means what is unique, and he is really unique. But the point is
that when we thus see him as the first man saw him, we begin once more
to have some imaginative sense of what it meant when the first man rode
him. In such a dream he may seem ugly, but he does not seem
unimpressive; and certainly that two-legged dwarf who could get on top
of him will not seem unimpressive. By a longer and more erratic road we
shall come back to the same marvel of the man and the horse; and the
marvel will be, if possible, even more marvellous. We shall have again a
glimpse of St. George; the more glorious because St. George is not
riding on the horse, but rather riding on the dragon.

In this example, which I have taken merely because it is an example, it
will be noted that I do not say that the nightmare seen by the first man
of the forest is either more true or more wonderful than the normal mare
of the stable seen by the civilised person who can appreciate what is
normal. Of the two extremes, I think on the whole that the traditional
grasp of truth is the better. But I say that the truth is found at one
or other of these two extremes, and is lost in the intermediate
condition of mere fatigue and forgetfulness of tradition. In other
words, I say it is better to see a horse as a monster than to see it
only as a slow substitute for a motor-car. If we have got into that
state of mind about a horse as something stale, it is far better to be
frightened of a horse because it is a good deal too fresh.

Now, as it is with the monster that is called a horse, so it is with the
monster that is called a man. Of course the best condition of all, in my
opinion, is always to have regarded man as he is regarded in my
philosophy. He who holds the Christian and Catholic view of human nature
will feel certain that it is a universal and therefore a sane view, and
will be satisfied. But if he has lost the pose to strike wherever
possible this note of what is new and strange, and for that reason the
style even on so serious a subject may sometimes be deliberately
grotesque and fanciful. I do desire to help the reader to see
Christendom from the outside in the sense of seeing it as a whole,
against the background of other historic things; just as I desire him to
see humanity as a whole against the background of natural things. And I
say that in both cases, when seen thus, they stand out from their
background like supernatural things. They do not fade into the rest with
the colours of impressionism; they stand out from the rest with the
colours of heraldry; as vivid as a red cross on a white shield or a
black lion on a ground of gold. So stands the Red Clay against the green
field of nature, or the White Christ against the red clay of his race.

But in order to see them clearly we have to see them as a whole. We have
to see how they developed as well as how they began; for the most
incredible part of the story is that things which began thus should have
developed thus. Anyone who chooses to indulge in mere imagination can
imagine that other things might have happened or other entities evolved.
Anyone thinking of what might have happened may conceive a sort of
evolutionary equality; but anyone facing what did happen must face an
exception and a prodigy. If there was ever a moment when man was only an
animal, we can if we choose make a fancy picture of his career
transferred to some other animal. An entertaining fantasia might be made
in which elephants built in elephantine architecture, with towers and
turrets like tusks and trunks, cities beyond the scale of any colossus.
A pleasant fable might be conceived in which a cow had developed a
costume, and put on four boots and two pairs of trousers. We could
imagine a Supermonkey more marvellous than any Superman, a quadrumanous
creature carving and painting with his hands and cooking and
carpentering with his feet. But if we are considering what did happen,
we shall certainly decide that man has distanced everything else with a
distance like that of the astronomical spaces and a speed like that of
the still thunderbolt of the light. And in the same fashion, while we
can if we choose see the Church amid a mob of Mithraic or Manichean
superstitions squabbling and killing each other at the end of the
Empire, while we can if we choose imagine the Church killed in the
struggle and some other chance cult taking its place, we shall be the
more surprised (and possibly puzzled) if we meet it two thousand years
afterwards rushing through the ages as the winged thunderbolt of thought
and everlasting enthusiasm; a thing without rival or resemblance; and
still as new as it is old.

* * *


On the Creature Called Man

* * *



Far away in some strange constellation in skies infinitely remote, there
is a small star, which astronomers may some day discover. At least I
could never observe in the faces or demeanour of most astronomers or men
of science any evidence that they have discovered it; though as a matter
of fact they were walking about on it all the time. It is a star that
brings forth out of itself very strange plants and very strange animals;
and none stranger than the men of science. That at least is the way in
which I should begin a history of the world, if I had to follow the
scientific custom of beginning with an account of the astronomical
universe. I should try to see even this earth from the outside, not by
the hackneyed insistence of its relative position to the sun, but by
some imaginative effort to conceive its remote position for the
dehumanised spectator. Only I do not believe in being dehumanised in
order to study humanity. I do not believe in dwelling upon the distances
that are supposed to dwarf the world; I think there is even something a
trifle vulgar about this idea of trying to rebuke spirit by size. And as
the first idea is not feasible, that of making the earth a strange
planet so as to make it significant, I will not stoop to the other trick
of making it a small planet in order to make it insignificant. I would
rather insist that we do not even know that it is a planet at all, in
the sense in which we know that it is a place; and a very extraordinary
place too. That is the note which I wish to strike from the first, if
not in the astronomical, then in some more familiar fashion.

One of my first journalistic adventures, or misadventures, concerned a
comment on Grant Allen, who had written a book about the Evolution of
the Idea of God. I happened to remark that it would be much more
interesting if God wrote a book about the evolution of the idea of Grant
Allen. And I remember that the editor objected to my remark on the
ground that it was blasphemous; which naturally amused me not a little.
For the joke of it was, of course, that it never occurred to him to
notice the title of the book itself, which really was blasphemous; for
it was, when translated into English, 'I will show you how this
nonsensical notion that there is God grew up among men.' My remark was
strictly pious and proper confessing the divine purpose even in its most
seemingly dark or meaningless manifestations. In that hour I learned
many things, including the fact that there is something purely acoustic
in much of that agnostic sort of reverence. The editor had not seen the
point, because in the title of the book the long word came at the
beginning and the short word at the end; whereas in my comments the
short word came at the beginning and gave him a sort of shock. I have
noticed that if you put a word like God into the same sentence with a
word like dog, these abrupt and angular words affect people like
pistol-shots. Whether you say that God made the dog or the dog made God
does not seem to matter; that is only one of the sterile disputations of
the too subtle theologians. But so long as you begin with a long word
like evolution the rest will roll harmlessly past; very probably the
editor had not read the whole of the title, for it is rather a long
title and he was rather a busy man.

But this little incident has always lingered in my mind as a sort of
parable. Most modern histories of mankind begin with the word evolution,
and with a rather wordy exposition of evolution, for much the same
reason that operated in this case. There is something slow and soothing
and gradual about the word and even about the idea. As a matter of fact,
it is not, touching these primary things, a very practical word or a
very profitable idea. Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into
something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how
something could turn into something else. It is really far more logical
to start by saying 'In the beginning God created heaven and earth' even
if you only mean 'In the beginning some unthinkable power began some
unthinkable process.' For God is by its nature a name of mystery, and
nobody ever supposed that man could imagine how a world was created any
more than he could create one. But evolution really is mistaken for
explanation. It has the fatal quality of leaving on many minds the
impression that they do understand it and everything else; just as many
of them live under a sort of illusion that they have read the Origin of

But this notion of something smooth and slow, like the ascent of a
slope, is a great part of the illusion. It is an illogicality as well as
an illusion; for slowness has really nothing to do with the question. An
event is not any more intrinsically intelligible or unintelligible
because of the pace at which it moves. For a man who does not believe in
a miracle, a slow miracle would be just as incredible as a swift one.
The Greek witch may have turned sailors to swine with a stroke of the
wand. But to see a naval gentleman of our acquaintance looking a little
more like a pig every day, till he ended with four trotters and a curly
tail, would not be any more soothing. It might be rather more creepy and
uncanny. The medieval wizard may have flown through the air from the top
of a tower; but to see an old gentleman walking through the air, in a
leisurely and lounging manner, would still seem to call for some
explanation. Yet there runs through all the rationalistic treatment of
history this curious and confused idea that difficulty is avoided, or
even mystery eliminated, by dwelling on mere delay or on something
dilatory in the processes of things. There will be something to be said
upon particular examples elsewhere; the question here is the false
atmosphere of facility and ease given by the mere suggestion of going
slow; the sort of comfort that might be given to a nervous old woman
travelling for the first time in a motor-car.

Mr. H. G. Wells has confessed to being a prophet; and in this matter he
was a prophet at his own expense. It is curious that his first
fairy-tale was a complete answer to his last book of history. The Time
Machine destroyed in advance all comfortable conclusions founded on the
mere relativity of time. In that sublime nightmare the hero saw trees
shoot up like green rockets, and vegetation spread visibly like a green
conflagration, or the sun shoot across the sky from east to west with
the swiftness of a meteor. Yet in his sense these things were quite as
natural when they went swiftly; and in our sense they are quite as
supernatural when they go slowly. The ultimate question is why they go
at all; and anybody who really understands that question will know that
it always has been and always will be a religious question; or at any
rate a philosophical or metaphysical question. And most certainly he
will not think the question answered by some substitution of gradual for
abrupt change; or, in other words by a merely relative question of the
same story being spun out or rattled rapidly through, as can be done
with any story at a cinema by turning a handle.

Now what is needed for these problems of primitive existence is
something more like a primitive spirit. In calling up this vision of the
first things, I would ask the reader to make with me a sort of
experiment in simplicity. And by simplicity I do not mean stupidity, but
rather the sort of clarity that sees things like life rather than words
like evolution. For this purpose it would really be better to turn the
handle of the Time Machine a little more quickly and see the grass
growing and the trees springing up into the sky, if that experiment
could contract and concentrate and make vivid the upshot of the whole
affair. What we know, in a sense in which we know nothing else, is that
the trees and the grass did grow and that number of other extraordinary
things do in fact happen; that queer creatures support themselves in the
empty air by beating it with fans of various fantastic shapes; that
other queer creatures steer themselves about alive under a load of
mighty waters; that other queer creatures walk about on four legs, and
that the queerest creature of all walks about on two. These are things
and not theories; and compared with them evolution and the atom and even
the solar system are merely theories. The matter here is one of history
and not of philosophy so that it need only be noted that no philosopher
denies that a mystery still attaches to the two great transitions: the
origin of the universe itself and the origin of the principle of life
itself. Most philosophers have the enlightenment to add that a third
mystery attaches to the origin of man himself. In other words, a third
bridge was built across a third abyss of the unthinkable when there came
into the world what we call reason and what we call will. Man is not
merely an evolution but rather a revolution. That he has a backbone or
other parts upon a similar pattern to birds and fishes is an obvious
fact, whatever be the meaning of the fact. But if we attempt to regard
him, as it were, as a quadruped standing on his hind legs, we shall find
what follows far more fantastic and subversive than if he were standing
on his head.

I will take one example to serve for an introduction to the story of
man. It illustrates what I mean by saying that a certain childish
directness is needed to see the truth about the childhood of the world.
It illustrates what I mean by saying that a mixture of popular science
and journalistic jargon have confused the facts about the first things,
so that we cannot see which of them really comes first. It illustrates,
though only in one convenient illustration, all that I mean by the
necessity of seeing the sharp differences that give its shape to
history, instead of being submerged in all these generalisations about
slowness and sameness. For we do indeed require, in Mr. Wells's phrase,
an outline of history. But we may venture to say, in Mr. Mantalini's
phrase, that this evolutionary history has no outline or is a demd
outline. But, above all, it illustrates what I mean by saying that the
more we really look at man as an animal, the less he will look like one.

To-day all our novels and newspapers will be found swarming with
numberless allusions to a popular character called a Cave-Man. He seems
to be quite familiar to us, not only as a public character but as a
private character. His psychology is seriously taken into account in
psychological fiction and psychological medicine. So far as I can
understand, his chief occupation in life was knocking his wife about, or
treating women in general with what is, I believe, known in the world of
the film as 'rough stuff.' I have never happened to come upon the
evidence for this idea; and I do not know on what primitive diaries or
prehistoric divorce-reports it is founded. Nor, as I have explained
elsewhere, have I ever been able to see the probability of it, even
considered a priori. We are always told without any explanation or
authority that primitive man waved a club and knocked the woman down
before he carried her off. But on every animal analogy, it would seem an
almost morbid modesty and reluctance, on the part of the lady, always to
insist on being knocked down before consenting to be carried off. And I
repeat that I can never comprehend why, when the male was so very rude,
the female should have been so very refined. The cave-man may have been
a brute, but there is no reason why he should have been more brutal than
the brutes. And the loves of the giraffes and the river romance of the
hippopotami are effected without any of this preliminary fracas or
shindy. The cave-man may have been no better that the cave-bear; but the
child she-bear, so famous in hymnology, is not trained with any such
bias for spinsterhood. In short these details of the domestic life of
the cave puzzle me upon either the revolutionary or the static
hypothesis; and in any case I should like to look into the evidence for
them, but unfortunately I have never been able to find it. But the
curious thing is this: that while ten thousand tongues of more or less
scientific or literary gossip seemed to be talking at once about this
unfortunate fellow, under the title of the cave-man, the one connection
in which it is really relevant and sensible to talk about him as the
cave-man has been comparatively neglected. People have used this loose
term in twenty loose ways, but they have never even looked at their own
term for what could really be learned from it.

In fact, people have been interested in everything about the cave-man
except what he did in the cave. Now there does happen to be some real
evidence of what he did in the cave. It is little enough, like all the
prehistoric evidence, but it is concerned with the real cave-man and his
cave and not the literary cave-man and his club. And it will be valuable
to our sense of reality to consider quite simply what that real evidence
is, and not to go beyond it. What was found in the cave was not the
club, the horrible gory club notched with the number of women it had
knocked on the head. The cave was not a Bluebeard's Chamber filled with
the skeletons of slaughtered wives; it was not filled with female skulls
all arranged in rows and all cracked like eggs. It was something quite
unconnected, one way or the other, with all the modern phrases and
philosophical implications and literary rumours which confuse the whole
question for us. And if we wish to see as it really is this authentic
glimpse of the morning of the world, it will be far better to conceive
even the story of its discovery as some such legend of the land of
morning. It would be far better to tell the tale of what was really
found as simply as the tale of heroes finding the Golden Fleece or the
Gardens of the Hesperides, if we could so escape from a fog of
controversial theories into the clear colours and clean-cut outlines of
such a dawn. The old epic poets at least knew how to tell a story,
possibly a tall story but never a twisted story, never a story tortured
out of its own shape to fit theories and philosophies invented centuries
afterwards. It would be well if modern investigators could describe
their discoveries in the bald narrative style of the earliest
travellers, and without any of these long allusive words that are full
of irrelevant implication and suggestion. Then we might realise exactly
what we do know about the cave-man, or at any rate about the cave.

A priest and a boy entered sometime ago a hollow in the hills and passed
into a sort of subterranean tunnel that led into a labyrinth of such
sealed and secret corridors of rock. They crawled through cracks that
seemed almost impassable, they crept through tunnels that might have
been made for moles, they dropped into holes as hopeless as wells, they
seemed to be burying themselves alive seven times over beyond the hope
of resurrection. This is but the commonplace of all such courageous
exploration; but what is needed here is some one who shall put such
stories in the primary light, in which they are not commonplace. There
is, for instance, something strangely symbolic in the accident that the
first intruders into that sunken world were a priest and a boy, the
types of the antiquity and of youth of the world. But here I am even
more concerned with the symbolism of the boy than with that of the
priest. Nobody who remembers boyhood needs to be told what it might be
to a boy to enter like Peter Pan under a roof of the roots of all the
trees and go deeper and deeper, till he reach what William Morris called
the very roots of the mountains. Suppose somebody, with that simple and
unspoilt realism that is a part of innocence, to pursue that journey to
its end, not for the sake of what he could deduce or demonstrate in some
dusty magazine controversy, but simply for the sake of what he could
see. What he did see at last was a cavern so far from the light of day
that it might have been the legendary Domdaniel cavern, that was under
the floor of the sea. This secret chamber of rock, when illuminated
after its long night of unnumbered ages, revealed on its walls large and
sprawling outlines diversified with coloured earths; and when they
followed the lines of them they recognised, across that vast and void of
ages, the movement and the gesture of a man's hand. They were drawings
or paintings of animals; and they were drawn or painted not only by a
man but by an artist. Under whatever archaic limitations, they showed
that love of the long sweeping or the long wavering line which any man
who has ever drawn or tried to draw will recognise; and about which no
artist will allow himself to be contradicted by any scientist. They
showed the experimental and adventurous spirit of the artist, the spirit
that does not avoid but attempt difficult things; as where the
draughtsman had represented the action of the stag when he swings his
head clean round and noses towards his tail, an action familiar enough
in the horse. But there are many modern animal-painters who would set
themselves something of a task in rendering it truly. In this and twenty
other details it is clear that the artist had watched animals with a
certain interest and presumably a certain pleasure. In that sense it
would seem that he was not only an artist but a naturalist; the sort of
naturalist who is really natural.

Now it is needless to note, except in passing, that there is nothing
whatever in the atmosphere of that cave to suggest the bleak and
pessimistic atmosphere of that journalistic cave of the winds, that
blows and bellows about us with countless echoes concerning the
cave-man. So far as any human character can be hinted at by such traces
of the past, that human character is quite human and even humane. It is
certainly not the ideal of an inhuman character, like the abstraction
invoked in popular science. When novelists and educationists and
psychologists of all sorts talk about the cave-man, they never conceive
him in connection with anything that is really in the cave. When the
realist of the sex novel writes, 'Red sparks danced in Dagmar
Doubledick's brain; he felt the spirit of the cave-man rising within
him,' the novelist's readers would be very much disappointed if Dagmar
only went off and drew large pictures of cows on the drawing-room wall.
When the psycho-analyst writes to a patient, 'The submerged instincts of
the cave-man are doubtless prompting you to gratify a violent impulse,'
he does not refer to the impulse to paint in water-colours; or to make
conscientious studies of how cattle swing their heads when they graze.
Yet we do know for a fact that the cave man did these mild and innocent
things; and we have not the most minute speck of evidence that he did
any of the violent and ferocious things. In other words the cave-man as
commonly presented to us is simply a myth or rather a muddle; for a myth
has at least an imaginative outline of truth. The whole of the current
way of talking is simply a confusion and a misunderstanding, founded on
no sort of scientific evidence and valued only as an excuse for a very
modern mood of anarchy. If any gentleman wants to knock a woman about,
he can surely be a cad without taking away the character of the
cave-man, about whom we know next to nothing except what we can gather
from a few harmless and pleasing pictures on a wall.

But this is not the point about the pictures or the particular moral
here to be drawn from them. That moral is something much larger and
simpler, so large and simple that when it is first stated it will sound
childish. And indeed it is in the highest sense childish; and that is
why I have in this apologue in some sense seen it through the eyes of a
child. It is the biggest of all the facts really facing the boy in the
cavern; and is perhaps too big to be seen. If the boy was one of the
flock of the priest, it may be presumed that he had been trained in a
certain quality of common sense; that common sense that often comes to
us in the form of tradition. In that case he would simply recognise the
primitive man's work as the work of a man, interesting but in no way
incredible in being primitive. He would see what was there to see; and
he would not be tempted into seeing what was not there, by any
evolutionary excitement or fashionable speculation. If he had heard of
such things he would admit, of course, that the speculations might be
true and were not incompatible with the facts that were true. The artist
may have had another side to his character besides that which he has
alone left on record in his works of art. The primitive man may have
taken a pleasure in beating women as well as in drawing animals; all we
can say is that the drawings record the one but not the other. It may be
true that when the cave-man's finished jumping on his mother, or his
wife as the case may be, he loves to hear the little brook a-gurgling,
and also to watch the deer as they come down to drink at the brook.
These things are not impossible, but they are irrelevant. The common
sense of the child could confine itself to learning from the facts what
the facts have to teach; and the pictures in the cave are very nearly
all the facts there are. So far as that evidence goes, the child would
be justified in assuming that a man had represented animals with rock
and red ochre for the same reason as he himself was in the habit of
trying to represent animals with charcoal and red chalk. The man had
drawn a stag just as the child had drawn a horse; because it was fun.
The man had drawn a stag with his head turned as the child had drawn a
pig with his eyes shut; because it was difficult. The child and the man,
being both human, would be united by the brotherhood of men; and the
brotherhood of men is even nobler when it bridges the abyss of ages than
when it bridges only the chasm of class. But anyhow he would see no
evidence of the cave man of crude evolutionism; because there is none to
be seen. If somebody told him that the pictures had all been drawn by
St. Francis of Assisi out of pure and saintly love of animals, there
would be nothing in the cave to contradict it.

Indeed I once knew a lady who half-humorously suggested that the cave
was a creche, in which the babies were put to be specially safe, and
that coloured animals were drawn on the walls to amuse them; very much
as diagrams of elephants and giraffes adorn a modern infant school. And
though this was but a jest, it does draw attention to some of the other
assumptions that we make only too readily. The pictures do not prove
even that the cave-men lived in caves, any more than the discovery of a
wine-cellar in Balham (long after that suburb had been destroyed by
human or divine wrath) would prove that the Victorian middle classes
lived entirely underground. The cave might have had a special purpose
like the cellar; it might have been a religious shrine or a refuge in
war or the meeting place of a secret society or all sorts of things. But
it is quite true that its artistic decoration has much more of the
atmosphere of a nursery than of any of these nightmares of anarchical
fury and fear. I have conceived a child as standing in the cave; and it
is easy to conceive any child, modern or immeasurably remote, as making
a living gesture as if to pat the painted beasts upon the wall. In that
gesture there is a foreshadowing, as we shall see later, of another
cavern and another child.

But suppose the boy had not been taught by a priest but by a professor,
by one of the professors who simplify the relation of men and beasts to
a mere evolutionary variation. Suppose the boy saw himself, with the
same simplicity and sincerity, as a mere Mowgli running with the pack of
nature and roughly indistinguishable from the rest save by a relative
and recent variation. What would be for him the simplest lesson of that
strange stone picture-book? After all, it would come back to this; that
he had dug very deep and found the place where a man had drawn the
picture of a reindeer. But he would dig a good deal deeper before he
found a place where a reindeer had drawn a picture of a man. That sounds
like a truism, but in this connection it is really a very tremendous
truth. He might descend to depths unthinkable, he might sink into sunken
continents as strange as remote stars, he might find himself in the
inside of the world as far from men as the other side of the moon; he
might see in those cold chasms or colossal terraces of stone, traced in
the faint hieroglyphic of the fossil, the ruins of lost dynasties of
biological life, rather like the ruins of successive creations and
separate universes than the stages in the story of one. He would find
the trail of monsters blindly developing in directions outside all our
common imagery of fish and bird; groping and grasping and touching life
with every extravagant elongation of horn and tongue and tentacle;
growing a forest of fantastic caricatures of the claw and the fin and
the finger. But nowhere would he find one finger that had traced one
significant line upon the sand; nowhere one claw that had even begun to
scratch the faint suggestion of a form. To all appearance, the thing
would be as unthinkable in all those countless cosmic variations of
forgotten aeons as it would be in the beasts and birds before our eyes
The child would no more expect to see it than to see the cat scratch on
the wall a vindictive caricature of the dog. The childish common sense
would keep the most evolutionary child from expecting to see anything
like that; yet in the traces of the rude and recently evolved ancestors
of humanity he would have seen exactly that. It must surely strike him
as strange that men so remote from him should be so near, and that
beasts so near to him should be so remote. To his simplicity it must
seem at least odd that he could not find any trace of the beginning of
any arts among any animals. That is the simplest lesson to learn in the
cavern of the coloured pictures; only it is too simple to be learnt. It
is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not
in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to
say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it
sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a
picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared;
and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.

That is the sort of simple truth with which a story of the beginnings
ought really to begin. The evolutionist stands staring in the painted
cavern at the things that are too large to be seen and too simple to be
understood. He tries to deduce all sorts of other indirect and doubtful
things from the details of the pictures, because he can not see the
primary significance of the whole; thin and theoretical deductions about
the absence of religion or the presence of superstition; about tribal
government and hunting and human sacrifice and heaven knows what. In the
next chapter I shall try to trace in a little more detail the much
disputed question about these prehistoric origins of human ideas and
especially of the religious idea. Here I am only taking this one case of
the cave as a sort of symbol of the simpler sort of truth with which the
story ought to start. When all is said, the main fact that the record of
the reindeer men attests, along with all other records, is that the
reindeer man could draw and the reindeer could not. If the reindeer man
was as much an animal as the reindeer, it was all the more extraordinary
that he could do what all other animals could not. If he was an ordinary
product of biological growth, like any other beast or bird, then it is
all the more extraordinary that he was not in the least like any other
beast or bird. He seems rather more supernatural as a natural product
than as a supernatural one.

But I have begun this story in the cave, like the cave of the
speculations of Plato, because it is a sort of model of the mistake of
merely evolutionary introductions and prefaces. It is useless to begin
by saying that everything was slow and smooth and a mere matter of
development and degree. For in the plain matter like the pictures there
is in fact not a trace of any such development or degree. Monkeys did
not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a
reindeer badly and Homo Sapiens draw it well. The higher animals did not
draw better and better portraits; the dog did not paint better in his
best period than in his early bad manner as a jackal; the wild horse was
not an Impressionist and the race-horse a Post-Impressionist. All we can
say of this notion of reproducing things in shadow or representative
shape is that it exists nowhere in nature except in man; and that we
cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate
from nature. In other words, every sane sort of history must begin with
man as man, a thing standing absolute and alone. How he came there, or
indeed how anything else came there, is a thing for theologians and
philosophers and scientists and not for historians. But an excellent
test case of this isolation and mystery is the matter of the impulse of
art. This creature was truly different from all other creatures; because
he was a creator as well as a creature. Nothing in that sense could be
made in any other image but the image of man. But the truth is so true
that, even in the absence of any religious belief, it must be assumed in
the form of some moral or metaphysical principle. In the next chapter we
shall see how this principle applies to all the historical hypotheses
and evolutionary ethics now in fashion; to the origins of tribal
government or mythological belief. But the clearest and most convenient
example to start with is this popular one of what the cave-man really
did in his cave. It means that somehow or other a new thing had appeared
in the cavernous night of nature, a mind that is like a mirror. It is
like a mirror because it is truly a thing of reflection. It is like a
mirror because in it alone all the other shapes can be seen like shining
shadows in a vision. Above all, it is like a mirror because it is the
only thing of its kind. Other things may resemble it or resemble each
other in various ways; other things may excel it or excel each other in
various ways; just as in the furniture of a room a table may be round
like a mirror or a cupboard may be larger than a mirror. But the mirror
is the only thing that can contain them all. Man is the microcosm; man
is the measure of all things; man is the image of God These are the only
real lessons to be learnt in the cave, and it is time to leave it for
the open road.

It will be well in this place, however, to sum up once and for all what
is meant by saying that man is at once the exception to everything and
the mirror and the measure of all things. But to see man as he is, it is
necessary once more to keep close to that simplicity that can clear
itself of accumulated clouds of sophistry. The simplest truth about man
is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a
stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external
appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere
growth of this one. He has an unfair advantage and an unfair
disadvantage. He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own
instincts. He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers
and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called
clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture. His mind
has the same doubtful liberties and the same wild limitations. Alone
among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called
laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of
the universe hidden from the universe itself. Alone among the animals he
feels the need of averting his thought from the root realities of his
own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher
possibility which creates the mystery of shame. Whether we praise these
things as natural to man or abuse them as artificial in nature, they
remain in the same sense unique. This is realised by the whole popular
instinct called religion, until disturbed by pedants, especially the
laborious pedants of the Simple Life. The most sophistical of all
sophists are gymnosophists.

It is not natural to see man as a natural product. It is not common
sense to call man a common object of the country or the seashore. It is
not seeing straight to see him as an animal. It is not sane. It sins
against the light; against that broad daylight of proportion which is
the principle of all reality. It is reached by stretching a point, by
making out a case, by artificially selecting a certain light and shade,
by bringing into prominence the lesser or lower things which may happen
to be similar. The solid thing standing in the sunlight, the thing we
can walk round and see from all sides, is quite different. It is also
quite extraordinary, and the more sides we see of it the more
extraordinary it seems. It is emphatically not a thing that follows or
flows naturally from anything else. If we imagine that an inhuman or
impersonal intelligence could have felt from the first the general
nature of the non-human world sufficiently to see that things would
evolve in whatever way they did evolve, there would have been nothing
whatever in all that natural world to prepare such a mind for such an
unnatural novelty. To such a mind, man would most certainly not have
seemed something like one herd out of a hundred herds finding richer
pasture, or one swallow out of a hundred swallows making a summer under
a strange sky. It would not be in the same scale and scarcely in the
same dimension. We might as truly say that it would not be in the same
universe. It would be more like seeing one cow out of a hundred cows
suddenly jump over the moon or one pig out of a hundred pigs grow wings
in a flash and fly. It would not be a question of the cattle finding
their own grazing ground but of their building their own cattle-sheds,
not a question of one swallow making a summer but of his making a summer
house. For the very fact that birds do build nests is one of those
similarities that sharpen the startling difference. The very fact that a
bird can get as far as building a nest, and cannot get any farther,
proves that he has not a mind as man has a mind; it proves it more
completely than if he built nothing at all. If he built nothing at all,
he might possibly be a philosopher of the Quietist or Buddhistic school,
indifferent to all but the mind within. But when he builds as he does
build and is satisfied and sings aloud with satisfaction, then we know
there is really an invisible veil like a pane of glass between him and
us, like the window on which a bird will beat in vain. But suppose our
abstract onlooker saw one of the birds begin to build as men build.
Suppose in an incredibly short space of time there were seven styles of
architecture for one style of nest. Suppose the bird carefully selected
forked twigs and pointed leaves to express the piercing piety of Gothic,
but turned to broad foliage and black mud when he sought in a darker
mood to call up the heavy columns of Bel and Ashtaroth; making his nest
indeed one of the hanging gardens of Babylon. Suppose the bird made
little clay statues of birds celebrated in letters or politics and stuck
them up in front of the nest. Suppose that one bird out of a thousand
birds began to do one of the thousand things that man had already done
even in the morning of the world; and we can be quite certain that the
onlooker would not regard such a bird as a mere evolutionary variety of
the other birds; he would regard it as a very fearful wild-fowl indeed;
possibly as a bird of ill-omen, certainly as an omen. That bird would
tell the augurs, not of something that would happen, but of some thing
that had happened. That something would be the appearance of a mind with
a new dimension of depth; a mind like that of man. If there be no God,
no other mind could conceivably have foreseen it.

Now, as a matter of fact, there is not a shadow of evidence that this
thing was evolved at all. There is not a particle of roof that this
transition came slowly, or even that it came naturally. In a strictly
scientific sense, we simply know nothing whatever about how it grew, or
whether it grew, or what it is. There may be a broken trail of stone and
bone faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is
nothing even faintly suggesting such a development of this human mind.
It was not and it was; we know not in what instant or in what infinity
of years. Something happened; and it has all the appearance of a
transaction outside of time. It has therefore nothing to do with history
in the ordinary sense. The historian must take it or something like it
for granted; it is not his business as a historian to explain it. But if
he cannot explain it as a historian, he will not explain it as a
biologist. In neither case is there any disgrace to him in accepting it
without explaining it; for it is a reality, and history and biology deal
with realities. He is quite justified in calmly confronting the pig with
wings and the cow that jumped over the moon, merely because they have
happened. He can reasonably accept man as a freak, because he accepts
man as a fact. He can be perfectly comfortable in a crazy and
disconnected world, or in a world that can produce such a crazy and
disconnected thing. For reality is a thing in which we can all repose,
even if it hardly seems related to anything else. The thing is there;
and that is enough for most of us. But if we do indeed want to know how
it can conceivably have come there, if we do indeed wish to see it
related realistically to other things, if we do insist on seeing it
evolved before our very eyes from an environment nearer to its own
nature, then assuredly it is to very different things that we must go.
We must stir very strange memories and return to very simple dreams, if
we desire some origin that can make man other than a monster. We shall
have discovered very different causes before he becomes a creature of
causation; and invoked other authority to turn him into something
reasonable, or even into anything probable. That way lies all that is at
once awful and familiar and forgotten, with dreadful faces thronged and
fiery arms. We can accept man as a fact, if we are content with an
unexplained fact. We can accept him as an animal, if we can live with a
fabulous animal. But if we must needs have sequence and necessity, then
indeed we must provide a prelude and crescendo of mounting miracles,
that ushered in with unthinkable thunders in all the seven heavens of
another order, a man may be an ordinary thing.

* * *



Science is weak about these prehistoric things in a way that has hardly
been noticed. The science whose modern marvels we all admire succeeds by
incessantly adding to its data. In all practical inventions, in most
natural discoveries, it can always increase evidence by experiment. But
it cannot experiment in making men; or even in watching to see what the
first men make. An inventor can advance step by step in the construction
of an aeroplane, even if he is only experimenting with sticks and scraps
of metal in his own back-yard. But he cannot watch the Missing Link
evolving in his own back-yard. If he has made a mistake in his
calculations, the aeroplane will correct it by crashing to the ground.
But if he has made a mistake about the arboreal habitat of his ancestor,
he cannot see his arboreal ancestor falling off the tree. He cannot keep
a cave-man like a cat in the back-yard and watch him to see whether he
does really practice cannibalism or carry off his mate on the principles
of marriage by capture. He cannot keep a tribe of primitive men like a
pack of hounds and notice how far they are influenced by the herd
instinct. If he sees a particular bird behave in a particular way, he
can get other birds and see if they behave in that way; but if he finds
a skull, or the scrap of a skull, in the hollow of a hill, he cannot
multiply it into a vision of the valley of dry bones. In dealing with a
past that has almost entirely perished, he can only go by evidence and
not by experiment. And there is hardly enough evidence to be even
evidential. Thus while most science moves in a sort of curve, being
constantly corrected by new evidence, this science flies off into space
in a straight line uncorrected by anything. But the habit of forming
conclusions, as they can really be formed in more fruitful fields, is so
fixed in the scientific mind that it cannot resist talking like this. It
talks about the idea suggested by one scrap of bone as if it were
something like the aeroplane which is constructed at last out of whole
scrapheaps of scraps of metal. The trouble with the professor of the
prehistoric is that he cannot scrap his scrap. The marvellous and
triumphant aeroplane is made out of a hundred mistakes. The student of
origins can only make one mistake and stick to it.

We talk very truly of the patience of science; but in this department it
would be truer to talk of the impatience of science. Owing to the
difficulty above described, the theorist is in far too much of a hurry.
We have a series of hypotheses so hasty that they may well be called
fancies, and cannot in any case be further corrected by facts. The most
empirical anthropologist is here as limited as an antiquary. He can only
cling to a fragment of the past and has no way of increasing it for the
future He can only clutch his fragment of fact, almost as the primitive
man clutched his fragment of flint. And indeed he does deal with it in
much the same way and for much the same reason. It is his tool and his
only tool. It is his weapon and his only weapon. He often wields it with
a fanaticism far in excess of anything shown by men of science when they
can collect more facts from experience and even add new facts by
experiment. Sometimes the professor with his bone becomes almost as
dangerous as a dog with his bone. And the dog at least does not deduce a
theory from it, proving that mankind is going to the dogs--or that it
came from them.

For instance, I have pointed out the difficulty of keeping a monkey and
watching it evolve into a man. Experimental evidence of such an
evolution being impossible, the professor is not content to say (as most
of us would be ready to say) that such an evolution is likely enough
anyhow. He produces his little bone, or little collection of bones, and
deduces the most marvellous things from it. He found in Java a piece of
a skull, seeming by its contour to be smaller than the human. Somewhere
near it he found an upright thigh-bone and in the same scattered fashion
some teeth that were not human. If they all form part of one creature,
which is doubtful, our conception of the creature would be almost
equally doubtful. But the effect on popular science was to produce a
complete and even complex figure, finished down to the last details of
hair and habits. He was given a name as if he were an ordinary
historical character. People talked of Pithecanthropus as of Pitt or Fox
or Napoleon. Popular histories published portraits of him like the
portraits of Charles the First and George the Fourth. A detailed drawing
was reproduced, carefully shaded, to show that the very hairs of his
head were all numbered No uninformed person looking at its carefully
lined face and wistful eyes would imagine for a moment that this was the
portrait of a thigh-bone; or of a few teeth and a fragment of a cranium.
In the same way people talked about him as if he were an individual
whose influence and character were familiar to us all. I have just read
a story in a magazine about Java, and how modern white inhabitants of
that island are prevailed on to misbehave themselves by the personal
influence of poor old Pithecanthropus. That the modern inhabitants of
Java misbehave themselves I can very readily believe; but I do not
imagine that they need any encouragement from the discovery of a few
highly doubtful bones. Anyhow, those bones are far too few and
fragmentary and dubious to fill up the whole of the vast void that does
in reason and in reality lie between man and his bestial ancestors, if
they were his ancestors. On the assumption of that evolutionary
connection (a connection which I am not in the least concerned to deny),
the really arresting and remarkable fact is the comparative absence of
any such remains recording that connection at that point. The sincerity
of Darwin really admitted this; and that is how we came to use such a
term as the Missing Link. But the dogmatism of Darwinians has been too
strong for the agnosticism of Darwin; and men have insensibly fallen
into turning this entirely negative term into a positive image. They
talk of searching for the habits and habitat of the Missing Link; as if
one were to talk of being on friendly terms with the gap in a narrative
or the hole in an argument, of taking a walk with a non-sequitur or
dining with an undistributed middle.

In this sketch, therefore, of man in his relation to certain religious
and historical problems, I shall waste no further space on these
speculations on the nature of man before he became man. His body may
have been evolved from the brutes; but we know nothing of any such
transition that throws the smallest light upon his soul as it has shown
itself in history. Unfortunately the same school of writers pursue the
same style of reasoning when they come to the first real evidence about
the first real men. Strictly speaking of course we know nothing about
prehistoric man, for the simple reason that he was prehistoric. The
history of prehistoric man is a very obvious contradiction in terms. It
is the sort of unreason in which only rationalists are allowed to
indulge. If a parson had casually observed that the Flood was
ante-diluvian, it is possible that he might be a little chaffed about
his logic. If a bishop were to say that Adam was Preadamite, we might
think it a little odd. But we are not supposed to notice such verbal
trifles when sceptical historians talk of the part of history that is
prehistoric. The truth is that they are using the terms historic and
prehistoric without any clear test or definition in their minds. What
they mean is that there are traces of human lives before the beginning
of human stories; and in that sense we do at least know that humanity
was before history.

Human civilisation is older than human records. That is the sane way of
stating our relations to these remote things. Humanity has left examples
of its other arts earlier than the art of writing; or at least of any
writing that we can read. But it is certain that the primitive arts were
arts; and it is in every way probable that the primitive civilisations
were civilisations. The man left a picture of the reindeer, but he did
not leave a narrative of how he hunted the reindeer; and therefore what
we say of him is hypothesis and not history. But the art he did practice
was quite artistic; his drawing was quite intelligent and there is no
reason to doubt that his story of the hunt would be quite intelligent,
only if it exists it is not intelligible. In short, the prehistoric
period need not mean the primitive period, in the sense of the barbaric
or bestial period. It does not mean the time before civilisation or the
time before arts and crafts. It simply means the time before any
connected narratives that we can read. This does indeed make all the
practical difference between remembrance and forgetfulness; but it is
perfectly possible that there were all sorts of forgotten forms of
civilisation, as well as all sorts of forgotten forms of barbarism. And
in any case everything indicated that many of these forgotten or
half-forgotten social stages were much more civilised and much less
barbaric than is vulgarly imagined today. But even about these unwritten
histories of humanity, when humanity was quite certainly human, we can
only conjecture with the greatest doubt and caution. And unfortunately
doubt and caution are the last things commonly encouraged by the loose
evolutionism of current culture. For that culture is full of curiosity;
and the one thing that it cannot endure is the agony of agnosticism. It
was in the Darwinian age that the word first became known and the thing
first became impossible.

It is necessary to say plainly that all this ignorance is simply covered
by impudence. Statements are made so plainly and positively that men
have hardly the moral courage to pause upon them and find that they are
without support. The other day a scientific summary of the state of a
prehistoric tribe began confidently with the words 'They wore no
clothes.' Not one reader in a hundred probably stopped to ask himself
how we should come to know whether clothes had once been worn by people
of whom everything has perished except a few chips of bone and stone. It
was doubtless hoped that we should find a stone hat as well as a stone
hatchet. It was evidently anticipated that we might discover an
everlasting pair of trousers of the same substance as the everlasting
rock. But to persons of a less sanguine temperament it will be
immediately apparent that people might wear simple garments, or even
highly ornamental garments, without leaving any more traces of them than
these people have left. The plaiting of rushes and grasses, for
instance, might have become more and more elaborate without in the least
becoming more eternal. One civilisation might specialise in things that
happened to be perishable, like weaving and embroidery, and not in
things that happen to be more permanent, like architecture and
sculpture. There have been plenty of examples of such specialist
societies. A man of the future finding the ruins of our factory
machinery might as fairly say that we were acquainted with iron and with
no other substance; and announce the discovery that the proprietor and
manager of the factory undoubtedly walked about naked--or possibly wore
iron hats and trousers.

It is not contended here that these primitive men did wear clothes any
more than they did weave rushes; but merely that we have not enough
evidence to know whether they did or not. But it may be worthwhile to
look back for a moment at some of the very few things that we do know
and that they did do. If we consider them, we shall certainly not find
them inconsistent with such ideas as dress and decoration. We do not
know whether they decorated other things. We do not know whether they
had embroideries, and if they had the embroideries could not be expected
to have remained. But we do know that they did have pictures; and the
pictures have remained. And there remains with them, as already
suggested, the testimony to something that is absolute and unique; that
belongs to man and to nothing else except man; that is a difference of
kind and not a difference of degree. A monkey does not draw clumsily and
a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a
man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not
begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A
line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.

Another distinguished writer, again, in commenting on the cave drawings
attributed to the neolithic men of the reindeer period, said that none
of their pictures appeared to have any religious purpose; and he seemed
almost to infer that they had no religion. I can hardly imagine a
thinner thread of argument than this which reconstructs the very inmost
moods of the pre-historic mind from the fact that somebody who has
scrawled a few sketches on a rock, from what motive we do not know, for
what purpose we do not know, acting under what customs or conventions we
do not know, may possibly have found it easier to draw reindeer than to
draw religion. He may have drawn it because it was his religious symbol.
He may have drawn it because it was not his religious symbol. He may
have drawn anything except his religious symbol. He may have drawn his
real religious symbol somewhere else; or it may have been deliberately
destroyed when it was drawn. He may have done or not done half a million
things; but in any case it is an amazing leap of logic to infer that he
had no religious symbol, or even to infer from his having no religious
symbol that he had no religion. Now this particular case happens to
illustrate the insecurity of these guesses very clearly. For a little
while afterwards, people discovered not only paintings but sculptures of
animals in the caves. Some of these were said to be damaged with dints
or holes supposed to be the marks of arrows; and the damaged images were
conjectured to be the remains of some magic rite of killing the beasts
in effigy; while the undamaged images were explained in connection with
another magic rite invoking fertility upon the herds. Here again there
is something faintly humorous about the scientific habit of having it
both ways. If the image is damaged it proves one superstition and if it
is undamaged it proves another. Here again there is a rather reckless
jumping to conclusions; it has hardly occurred to the speculators that a
crowd of hunters imprisoned in winter in a cave might conceivably have
aimed at a mark for fun, as a sort of primitive parlour game. But in any
case, if it was done out of superstition, what has become of the thesis
that it had nothing to do with religion? The truth is that all this
guess work has nothing to do with anything. It is not half such a good
parlour game as shooting arrows at a carved reindeer, for it is shooting
them into the air.

Such speculators rather tend to forget, for instance, that men in the
modern world also sometimes make marks in caves. When a crowd of
trippers is conducted through the labyrinth of the Marvelous Grotto or
the Magic Stalactite Cavern, it has been observed that hieroglyphics
spring into sight where they have passed; initials and inscriptions
which the learned refuse to refer to any remote date. But the time will
come when these inscriptions will really be of remote date. And if the
professors of the future are anything like the professors of the
present, they will be able to deduce a vast number of very vivid and
interesting things from these cave-writings of the twentieth century. If
I know anything about the breed, and if they have not fallen away from
the full-blooded confidence of their fathers, they will be able to
discover the most fascinating facts about us from the initials left in
the Magic Grotto by 'Arry and 'Arriet, possibly in the form of two
intertwined A's. From this alone they will know (1) That as the letters
are rudely chipped with a blunt pocket knife, the twentieth century
possessed no delicate graving-tools and was unacquainted with the art of
sculpture. (2) That as the letters are capital letters, our civilisation
never evolved any small letters or anything like a running hand. (3)
That because initial consonants stand together in an unpronounceable
fashion, our language was possibly akin to Welsh or more probably of the
early Semitic type that ignored vowels. (4) That as the initials of
'Arry and 'Arriet do not in any special fashion profess to be religious
symbols, our civilisation possessed no religion. Perhaps the last is
about the nearest to the truth; for a civilisation that had religion
would have a little more reason.

It is commonly affirmed, again, that religion grew in a very slow and
evolutionary manner; and even that it grew not from one cause; but from
a combination that might be called a coincidence. Generally speaking,
the three chief elements in the combination are, first, the fear of the
chief of the tribe (whom Mr. Wells insists on calling, with regrettable
familiarity, the Old Man), second, the phenomena of dreams, and third,
the sacrificial associations of the harvest and the resurrection
symbolised in the growing corn. I may remark in passing that it seems to
me very doubtful psychology to refer one living and single spirit to
three dead and disconnected causes, if they were merely dead and
disconnected causes. Suppose Mr. Wells, in one of his fascinating novels
of the future, were to tell us that there would arise among men a new
and as yet nameless passion, of which men will dream as they dream of
first love, for which they will die as they die for a flag and a
fatherland. I think we should be a little puzzled if he told us that
this singular sentiment would be a combination of the habit of smoking
Woodbines, the increase of the income tax and the pleasure of a motorist
in exceeding the speed limit. We could not easily imagine this, because
we could not imagine any connection between the three or any common
feeling that could include them all. Nor could anyone imagine any
connection between corn and dreams and an old chief with a spear, unless
there was already a common feeling to include them all. But if there was
such a common feeling it could only be the religious feeling; and these
things could not be the beginnings of a religious feeling that existed
already. I think anybody's common sense will tell him that it is far
more likely that this sort of mystical sentiment did exist already; and
that in the light of it dreams and kings and corn-fields could appear
mystical then, as they can appear mystical now.

For the plain truth is that all this is a trick of making things seem
distant and dehumanised, merely by pretending not to understand things
that we do understand. It is like saying that prehistoric men had an
ugly and uncouth habit of opening their mouths wide at intervals and
stuffing strange substances into them, as if we had never heard of
eating. It is like saying that the terrible Troglodytes of the Stone Age
lifted alternate legs in rotation, as if we never heard of walking. If
it were meant to touch the mystical nerve and awaken us to the wonder of
walking and eating, it might be a legitimate fancy. As it is here
intended to kill the mystical nerve and deaden us to the wonder of
religion, it is irrational rubbish. It pretends to find some thing
incomprehensible in the feelings that we all comprehend. Who does not
find dreams mysterious, and feel that they lie on the dark borderland of
being? Who does not feel the death and resurrection of the growing
things of the earth as something near to the secret of the universe? Who
does not understand that there must always be the savour of something
sacred about authority and the solidarity that is the soul of the tribe?
If there be any anthropologist who really finds these things remote and
impossible to realise, we can say nothing of that scientific gentleman
except that he has not got so large and enlightened a mind as a
primitive man. To me it seems obvious that nothing but a spiritual
sentiment already active could have clothed these separate and diverse
things with sanctity. To say that religion came from reverencing a chief
or sacrificing at a harvest is to put a highly elaborate cart before a
really primitive horse. It is like saying that the impulse to draw
pictures came from the contemplation of the pictures of reindeers in the
cave. In other words, it is explaining painting by saying that it arose
out of the work of painters; or accounting for art by saying that it
arose out of art. It is even more like saying that the thing we call
poetry arose as the result of certain customs; such as that of an ode
being officially composed to celebrate the advent of spring; or that of
a young man rising at a regular hour to listen to the skylark and then
writing his report on a piece of paper. It is quite true that young men
often become poets in the spring; and it is quite true that when once
there are poets, no mortal power can restrain them from writing about
the skylark But the poems did not exist before the poets. The poetry did
not arise out of the poetic forms. In other words, it is hardly an
adequate explanation of how a thing appeared for the first time to say
it existed already. Similarly, we cannot say that religion arose out of
the religious forms, because that is only another way of saying that it
only arose when it existed already. It needed a certain sort of mind to
see that there was anything mystical about the dreams or the dead, as it
needed a particular sort of mind to see that there was any thing
poetical about the skylark or the spring. That mind was presumably what
we call the human mind, very much as it exists to this day; for mystics
still meditate upon death and dreams as poets still write about spring
and skylarks. But there is not the faintest hint to suggest that
anything short of the human mind we know feels any of these mystical
associations at all. A cow in a field seems to derive no lyrical impulse
or instruction from her unrivalled opportunities for listening to the
skylark. And similarly there is no reason to suppose that live sheep
will ever begin to use dead sheep as the basis of a system of elaborate
ancestor-worship. It is true that in the spring a young quadruped's
fancy may lightly turn to thoughts of love, but no succession of springs
has ever led it to turn however lightly to thoughts of literature. And
in the same way, while it is true that a dog has dreams, while most
other quadrupeds do not seem even to have that, we have waited a long
time for the dog to develop his dreams into an elaborate system or
religious ceremonial. We have waited so long that we have really ceased
to expect it; and we no more look to see a dog apply his dreams to
ecclesiastical construction than to see him examine his dreams by the
rules of psycho-analysis. It is obvious, in short, that for some reason
or other these natural experiences, and even natural excitements, never
do pass the line that separates them from creative expression like art
and religion, in any creature except man. They never do, they never
have, and it is now to all appearance very improbable that they ever
will. It is not impossible, in the sense of self-contradictory, that we
should see cows fasting from grass every Friday or going on their knees
as in the old legend about Christmas Eve. It is not in that sense
impossible that cows should contemplate death until they can lift up a
sublime psalm of lamentation to the tune the old cow died of. It is not
in that sense impossible that they should express their hopes of a
heavenly career in a symbolic dance, in honour of the cow that jumped
over the moon. It may be that the dog will at last have laid in a
sufficient store of dreams to enable him to build a temple to Cerberus
as a sort of canine trinity. It may be that his dreams have already
begun to turn into visions capable of verbal expression, in some
revelation about the Dog Star as the spiritual home for lost dogs. These
things are logically possible, in the sense that it is logically
difficult to prove the universal negative which we call an
impossibility. But all that instinct for the probable, which we call
common sense, must long ago have told us that the animals are not to all
appearance evolving in that sense; and that, to say the least, we are
not likely to have any personal evidence of their passing from the
animal experience to the human experiments. But spring and death and
even dreams, considered merely as experiences, are their experiences as
much as ours. The only possible conclusion is that these experiences,
considered as experiences, do not generate anything like a religious
sense in any mind except a mind like ours. We come back to the fact of a
certain kind of mind that was already alive and alone. It was unique and
it could make creeds as it could make cave-drawings. The materials for
religion had lain there for countless ages like the materials for
everything else; but the power of religion was in the mind. Man could
already see in these things the riddles and hints and hopes that he
still sees in them. He could not only dream but dream about dreams. He
could not only see the dead but see the shadow of death; and was
possessed with that mysterious mystification that forever finds death

It is quite true that we have even these hints chiefly about man when he
unmistakably appears as man. We cannot affirm this or anything else
about the alleged animal originally connecting man and the brutes. But
that is only because he is not an animal but an allegation. We cannot be
certain the Pithecanthropus ever worshipped, because we cannot be
certain that he ever lived. He is only a vision called up to fill the
void that does in fact yawn between the first creatures who were
certainly men and any other creatures that are certainly apes or other
animals. A few very doubtful fragments are scraped together to suggest
such an intermediate creature because it is required by a certain
philosophy; but nobody supposes that these are sufficient to establish
anything philosophical even in support of that philosophy. A scrap of
skull found in Java cannot establish anything about religion or about
the absence of religion. If there ever was any such ape-man, he may have
exhibited as much ritual in religion as a man or as much simplicity in
religion as an ape. He may have been a mythologist or he may have been a
myth. It might be interesting to inquire whether this mystical quality
appeared in a transition from the ape to the man, if there were really
any types of the transition to inquire about. In other words, the
missing link might or might not be mystical if he were not missing. But
compared with the evidence we have of real human beings, we have no
evidence that he was a human being or a half-human being or a being at
all. Even the most extreme evolutionists do not attempt to deduce any
evolutionary views about the origin of religion from him. Even in trying
to prove that religion grew slowly from rude or irrational sources, they
begin their proof with the first men who were men. But their own proof
only proves that the men who were already men were already mystics. They
used the rude and irrational elements as only men and mystics can use
them. We come back once more to the simple truth; that at sometime too
early for these critics to trace, a transition had occurred to which
bones and stones cannot in their nature bear witness; and man became a
living soul.

Touching this matter of the origin of religion, the truth is that those
who are thus trying to explain it are trying to explain it away.
Subconsciously they feel that it looks less formidable when thus
lengthened out into a gradual and almost invisible process. But in fact
this perspective entirely falsifies the reality of experience. They
bring together two things that are totally different, the stray hints of
evolutionary origins and the solid and self-evident block of humanity,
and try to shift their standpoint till they see them in a single
foreshortened line. But it is an optical illusion. Men do not in fact
stand related to monkeys or missing links in any such chain as that in
which men stand related to men. There may have been intermediate
creatures whose faint traces can be found here and there in the huge
gap. Of these beings, if they ever existed, it may be true that they
were things very unlike men or men very unlike ourselves. But of
prehistoric men, such as those called the cave-men or the reindeer men,
it is not true in any sense whatever. Prehistoric men of that sort were
things exactly like men and men exceedingly like our selves. They only
happened to be men about whom we do not know much, for the simple reason
that they have left no records or chronicles; but all that we do know
about them makes them just as human and ordinary as men in a medieval
manor or a Greek city.

Looking from our human standpoint up the long perspective of humanity,
we simply recognise this thing as human. If we had to recognise it as
animal we should have had to recognise it as abnormal. If we chose to
look through the other end of the telescope, as I have done more than
once in these speculations, if we chose to project the human figure
forward out of an unhuman world, we could only say that one of the
animals had obviously gone mad. But seeing the thing from the right end,
or rather from the inside, we know it is sanity; and we know that these
primitive men were sane. We hail a certain human freemasonry wherever we
see it, in savages, in foreigners or in historical characters. For
instance, all we can infer from primitive legend, and all we know of
barbaric life, supports a certain moral and even mystical idea of which
the commonest symbol is clothes. For clothes are very literally
vestments and man wears them because he is a priest. It is true that
even as an animal he is here different from the animals. Nakedness is
not nature to him; it is not his life but rather his death; even in the
vulgar sense of his death of cold. But clothes are worn for dignity or
decency or decoration where they are not in any way wanted for warmth.
It would sometimes appear that they are valued for ornament before they
are valued for use. It would almost always appear that they are felt to
have some connection with decorum. Conventions of this sort vary a great
deal with various times and places; and there are some who cannot get
over this reflection, and for whom it seems a sufficient argument for
letting all conventions slide. They never tire of repeating, with simple
wonder, that dress is different in the Cannibal Islands and in Camden
Town; they cannot get any further and throw up the whole idea of decency
in despair. They might as well say that because there have been hats of
a good many different shapes, and some rather eccentric shapes,
therefore hats do not matter or do not exist. They would probably add
that there is no such thing as sunstroke or going bald. Men have felt
everywhere that certain norms were necessary to fence off and protect
certain private things from contempt or coarse misunderstanding; and the
keeping of those forms, whatever they were, made for dignity and mutual
respect. The fact that they mostly refer, more or less remotely, to the
relations of the sexes illustrates the two facts that must be put at the
very beginning of the record of the race. The first is the fact that
original sin is really original. Not merely in theology but in history
it is a thing rooted in the origins. Whatever else men have believed,
they have all believed that there is something the matter with mankind
This sense of sin has made it impossible to be natural and have no
clothes, just as it has made it impossible to be natural and have no
laws. But above all it is to be found in that other fact, which is the
father and mother of all laws as it is itself founded on a father and
mother; the thing that is before all thrones and even all commonwealths.

That fact is the family. Here again we must keep the enormous
proportions of a normal thing clear of various modifications and degrees
and doubts more or less reasonable, like clouds clinging about a
mountain. It may be that what we call the family had to fight its way
from or through various anarchies and aberrations; but it certainly
survived them and is quite as likely as not to have also preceded them.
As we shall see in the case of communism and nomadism, more formless
things could and did lie on the flank of societies that had taken a
fixed form; but there is nothing to show that the form did not exist
before the formlessness. What is vital is that form is more important
than formlessness; and that the material called mankind has taken this
form. For instance, of the rules revolving round sex, which were
recently mentioned, none is more curious than the savage custom commonly
called the couvade. That seems like a law out of topsyturvydom; by which
the father is treated as if he were the mother. In any case it clearly
involves the mystical sense of sex; but many have maintained that it is
really a symbolic act by which the father accepts the responsibility of
fatherhood. In that case that grotesque antic is really a very solemn
act; for it is the foundation of all we call the family and all we know
as human society. Some groping in these dark beginnings have said that
mankind was once under a matriarchy; I suppose that under a matriarchy
it would not be called mankind but womankind. But others have
conjectured that what is called matriarchy was simply moral anarchy, in
which the mother alone remained fixed because all the fathers were
fugitive and irresponsible. Then came the moment when the man decided to
guard and guide what he had created. So he became the head of the
family, not as a bully with a big club to beat women with, but rather as
a respectable person trying to be a responsible person. Now all that
might be perfectly true, and might even have been the first family act,
and it would still be true that man then for the first time acted like a
man, and therefore for the first time became fully a man. But it might
quite as well be true that the matriarchy or moral anarchy, or whatever
we call it, was only one of the hundred social dissolutions or barbaric
backslidings which may have occurred at intervals in prehistoric as they
certainly did in historic times. A symbol like the couvade, if it was
really such a symbol, may have commemorated the suppression of a heresy
rather than the first rise of a religion. We cannot conclude with any
certainty about these things, except in their big results in the
building of mankind, but we can say in what style the bulk of it and the
best of it is built. We can say that the family is the unit of the
state; that it is the cell that makes up the formation. Round the family
do indeed gather the sanctities that separate men from ants and bees.
Decency is the curtain of that tent; liberty is the wall of that city;
property is but the family farm; honour is but the family flag. In the
practical proportions of human history, we come back to that fundamental
of the father and the mother and the child. It has been said already
that if this story cannot start with religious assumptions, it must none
the less start with some moral or metaphysical assumptions, or no sense
can be made of the story of man. And this is a very good instance of
that alternative necessity. If we are not of those who begin by invoking
a divine Trinity, we must none the less invoke a human Trinity; and see
that triangle repeated everywhere in the pattern of the world. For the
highest event in history, to which all history looks forward and leads
up, is only something that is at once the reversal and the renewal of
that triangle. Or rather it is the one triangle superimposed so as to
intersect the other, making a sacred pentacle of which, in a mightier
sense than that of the magicians, the fiends are afraid. The old Trinity
was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The
new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy
Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just
as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except
in being turned upside-down.

* * *



The modern man looking at the most ancient origins has been like a man
watching for daybreak in a strange land; and expecting to see that dawn
breaking behind bare uplands or solitary peaks. But that dawn is
breaking behind the black bulk of great cities long builded and lost for
us in the original night; colossal cities like the houses of giants, in
which even the carved ornamental animals are taller than the palm-trees;
in which the painted portrait can be twelve times the size of the man;
with tombs like mountains of man set four-square and pointing to the
stars; with winged and bearded bulls standing and staring enormous at
the gates of temples; standing still eternally as if a stamp would shake
the world. The dawn of history reveals a humanity already civilized.
Perhaps it reveals a civilisation already old. And among other more
important things, it reveals the folly of most of the generalisations
about the previous and unknown period when it was really young. The two
first human societies of which we have any reliable and detailed record
are Babylon and Egypt. It so happens that these two vast and splendid
achievements of the genius of the ancients bear witness against two of
the commonest and crudest assumptions of the culture of the moderns. If
we want to get rid of half the nonsense about nomads and cave-men and
the old man of the forest, we need only look steadily at the two solid
and stupendous facts called Egypt and Babylon.

Of course most of these speculators who are talking about primitive men
are thinking about modern savages. They prove their progressive
evolution by assuming that a great part of the human race has not
progressed or evolved; or even changed in any way at all. I do not agree
with their theory of change; nor do I agree with their dogma of things
unchangeable. I may not believe that civilised man has had so rapid and
recent a progress; but I cannot quite understand why uncivilised man
should be so mystically immortal and immutable. A somewhat simpler mode
of thought and speech seems to me to be needed throughout this inquiry.
Modern savages cannot be exactly like primitive man, because they are
not primitive. Modern savages are not ancient because they are modern.
Something has happened to their race as much as to ours, during the
thousands of years of our existence and endurance on the earth. They
have had some experiences, and have presumably acted on them if not
profited by them. Like the rest of us. They have had some environment,
and even some change of environment, and have presumably adapted
themselves to it in a proper and decorous evolutionary manner. This
would be true even if the experiences were mild or the environment
dreary; for there is an effect in mere time when it takes the moral form
of monotony. But it has appeared to a good many intelligent and
well-informed people quite as probable that the experience of the
savages has been that of a decline from civilisation. Most of those who
criticise this view do not seem to have any very clear notion of what a
decline from civilisation would be like. Heaven help them, it is likely
enough that they will soon find out. They seem to be content if cave-men
and cannibal islanders have some things in common, such as certain
particular implements. But it is obvious on the face of it that any
peoples reduced for any reason to a ruder life would have some things in
common. If we lost all our firearms we should make bows and arrows; but
we should not necessarily resemble in every way the first men who made
bows and arrows. It is said that the Russians in their great retreat
were so short of armament that they fought with clubs cut in the wood.
But a professor of the future would err in supposing that the Russian
army of 1916 was a naked Scythian tribe that had never been out of the
wood. It is like saying that a man in his second childhood must exactly
copy his first. A baby is bald like an old man; but it would be an error
for one ignorant of infancy to infer that the baby had a long white
beard. Both a baby and an old man walk with difficulty; but he who shall
expect the old gentleman to lie on his back, and kick joyfully instead,
will be disappointed.

It is therefore absurd to argue that the first pioneers of humanity must
have been identical with some of the last and most stagnant leavings of
it. There were almost certainly some things, there were probably many
things, in which the two were widely different or flatly contrary. An
example of the way in which this distinction works, and an example
essential to our argument here, is that of the nature and origin of
government I have already alluded to Mr. H. G. Wells and the Old Man,
with whom he appears to be on such intimate terms. If we considered the
cold facts of prehistoric evidence for this portrait of the prehistoric
chief of the tribe, we could only excuse it by saying that its brilliant
and versatile author simply forgot for a moment that he was supposed to
be writing a history, and dreamed he was writing one of his own very
wonderful and imaginative romances. At least I cannot imagine how he can
possibly know that the prehistoric ruler was called the Old Man or that
court etiquette requires it to be spelt with capital letters. He says of
the same potentate, 'No one was allowed to touch his spear or to sit in
his seat.' I have difficulty in believing that anybody has dug up a
prehistoric spear with a prehistoric label, 'Visitors are Requested not
to Touch,' or a complete throne with the inscription, 'Reserved for the
Old Man.' But it may be presumed that the writer, who can hardly be
supposed to be merely making up things out of his own head, was merely
taking for granted this very dubious parallel between the prehistoric
and the decivilised man. It may be that in certain savage tribes the
chief is called the Old Man and nobody is allowed to touch his spear or
sit on his seat. It may be that in those cases he is surrounded with
superstitious and traditional terrors; and it may be that in those
cases, for all I know, he is despotic and tyrannical. But there is not a
grain of evidence that primitive government was despotic and tyrannical.
It may have been, of course, for it may have been anything or even
nothing; it may not have existed at all. But the despotism in certain
dingy and decayed tribes in the twentieth century does not prove that
the first men were ruled despotically. It does not even suggest it; it
does not even begin to hint at it. If there is one fact we really can
prove, from the history that we really do know, it is that despotism can
be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end
of societies that have been highly democratic. A despotism may almost be
defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the
citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly
been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single
sentinel to watch the city while they sleep. It is also true that they
sometimes needed him for some sudden and militant act of reform; it is
equally true that he often took advantage of being the strong man armed
to be a tyrant like some of the Sultans of the East. But I cannot see
why the Sultan should have appeared any earlier in history than many
other human figures. On the contrary, the strong man armed obviously
depends upon the superiority of his armour, and armament of that sort
comes with more complex civilisation. One man may kill twenty with a
machine-gum; it is obviously less likely that he could do it with a
piece of flint. As for the current cant about the strongest man ruling
by force and fear, it is simply a nursery fairy-tale about a giant with
a hundred hands. Twenty men could hold down the strongest strong man in
any society, ancient or modern. Undoubtedly they might admire, in a
romantic and poetical sense, the man who was really the strongest; but
that is quite a different thing, and is as purely moral and even
mystical as the admiration for the purest or the wisest. But the spirit
that endures the mere cruelties and caprices of an established despot is
the spirit of an ancient and settled and probably stiffened society, not
the spirit of a new one. As his name implies, the Old Man is the ruler
of an old humanity.

It is far more probable that a primitive society was something like a
pure democracy. To this day the comparatively simple agricultural
communities are by far the purest democracies. Democracy is a thing
which is always breaking down through the complexity of civilisation.
Anyone who likes may state it by saying that democracy is the foe of
civilisation. But he must remember that some of us really prefer
democracy to civilisation, in the sense of preferring democracy to
complexity. Anyhow, peasants tilling patches of their own land in a
rough equality, and meeting to vote directly under a village tree, are
the most truly self-governing of men. It is surely as likely as not that
such a simple idea was found in the first condition of even simpler men.
Indeed the despotic vision is exaggerated, even if we do not regard the
men as men. Even on an evolutionary assumption of the most materialistic
sort, there is really no reason why men should not have had at least as
much camaraderie as rats or rooks. Leadership of some sort they
doubtless had, as have the gregarious animals; but leadership implies no
such irrational servility as that attributed to the superstitious
subjects of the Old Man. There was doubtless some body corresponding, to
use Tennyson's expression, to the many-wintered crow that leads the
clanging rookery home. But I fancy that if that venerable fowl began to
act after the fashion of some Sultans in ancient and decayed Asia, it
would become a very clanging rookery and the many-wintered crow would
not see many more winters. It may be remarked, in this connection, but
even among animals it would seem that something else is respected more
than bestial violence, if it be only the familiarity which in men is
called tradition or the experience which in men is called wisdom. I do
not know if crows really follow the oldest crow, but if they do they are
certainly not following the strongest crow. And I do know, in the human
case, that if some ritual of seniority keeps savages reverencing
somebody called Old Man, then at least they have not our own servile
sentimental weakness for worshipping the Strong Man.

It may be said then that primitive government, like primitive art and
religion and everything else, is very imperfectly known or rather
guessed at; but that it is at least as good a guess to suggest that it
was as popular as a Balkan or Pyrenean village as that it was as
capricious and secret as a Turkish divan. Both the mountain democracy
and the oriental palace are modern in the sense that they are still
there, or are some sort of growth of history; but of the two the palace
has much more the look of being an accumulation and a corruption, the
village much more the look of being a really unchanged and primitive
thing. But my suggestions at this point do not go beyond expressing a
wholesome doubt about the current assumption. I think it interesting,
for instance, that liberal institutions have been traced even by moderns
back to barbarians or undeveloped states, when it happened to be
convenient for the support of some race or nation or philosophy. So the
Socialists profess that their ideal of communal property existed in very
early times. So the Jews are proud of the Jubilees or juster
redistributions under their ancient law. So the Teutonists boasted of
tracing parliaments and juries and various popular things among the
Germanic tribes of the north. So the Celtophiles and those testifying to
the wrongs of Ireland have pleaded the more equal justice of the clan
system, to which the Irish chiefs bore witness before Strongbow. The
strength of the case varies in the different cases; but as there is some
case for all of them, I suspect there is some case for the general
proposition that popular institutions of some sort were by no means
uncommon in early and simple societies. Each of these separate schools
were making the admission to prove a particular modern thesis; but taken
together they suggest a more ancient and general truth, that there was
something more in prehistoric councils than ferocity and fear. Each of
these separate theorists had his own axe to grind, but he was willing to
use a stone axe; and he manages to suggest that the stone axe might have
been as republican as the guillotine.

But the truth is that the curtain rises upon the play already in
progress In one sense it is a true paradox that there was history before
history. But it is not the irrational paradox implied in prehistoric
history; for it is a history we do not know. Very probably it was
exceedingly like the history we do know, except in the one detail that
we do not know it. It is thus the very opposite of the pretentious
prehistoric history, which professes to trace everything in a consistent
course from the amoeba to the anthropoid and from the anthropoid to the
agnostic. So far from being a question of our knowing all about queer
creatures very different from ourselves, they were very probably people
very like ourselves, except that we know nothing about them. In other
words, our most ancient records only reach back to a time when humanity
had long been human, and even long been civilised. The most ancient
records we have not only mention but take for granted things like kings
and priests and princes and assemblies of the people; they describe
communities that are roughly recognisable as communities in our own
sense. Some of them are despotic; but we cannot tell that they have
always been despotic. Some of them may be already decadent and nearly
all are mentioned as if they were old. We do not know what really
happened in the world before those records; but the little we do know
would leave us anything but astonished if we learnt that it was very
much like what happens in this world now. There would be nothing
inconsistent or confounding about the discovery that those unknown ages
were full of republics collapsing under monarchies and rising again as
republics, empires expanding and finding colonies and then losing
colonies. Kingdoms combining again into world states and breaking up
again into small nationalities, classes selling themselves into slavery
and marching out once more into liberty; all that procession of humanity
which may or may not be a progress but most assuredly a romance. But the
first chapters of the romance have been torn out of the book; and we
shall never read them.

It is so also with the more special fancy about evolution and social
stability. According to the real records available, barbarism and
civilisation were not successive states in the progress of the world.
They were conditions that existed side by side, as they still exist side
by side. There were civilisations then as there are civilisations now;
there are savages now as there were savages then. It is suggested that
all men passed through a nomadic stage; but it is certain that there are
some who have never passed out of it, and it seems not unlikely that
there were some who never passed into it. It is probable that from very
primitive times the static tiller of the soil and the wandering shepherd
were two distinct types of men; and the chronological rearrangement of
them is but a mark of that mania for progressive stages that has largely
falsified history. It is suggested that there was a communist stage, in
which private property was everywhere unknown, a whole humanity living
on the negation of property; but the evidences of this negation are
themselves rather negative. Redistributions of property, jubilees, and
agrarian laws, occur at various intervals and in various forms; but that
humanity inevitably passed through a communist stage seems as doubtful
as the parallel proposition that humanity will inevitably return to it.
It is chiefly interesting as evidence that the boldest plans for the
future invoke the authority of the past; and that even a revolutionary
seeks to satisfy himself that he is also a reactionary. There is an
amusing parallel example in the case of what is called feminism. In
spite of all the pseudo-scientific gossip about marriage by capture and
the cave-man beating the cave-woman with a club, it may be noted that as
soon as feminism became a fashionable cry, it was insisted that human
civilisation in its first stage had been a matriarchy. Apparently it was
the cave-woman who carried the club. Anyhow all these ideas are little
better than guesses; they have a curious way of following the fortune of
modern theories and fads. In any case they are not history in the sense
of record; and we may repeat that when it comes to record, the broad
truth is that barbarism and civilisation have always dwelt side by side
in the world, the civilisation sometimes spreading to absorb the
barbarians, sometimes decaying into relative barbarism, and in almost
all cases possessing in a more finished form certain ideas and
institutions which the barbarians possess in a ruder form; such as
government or social authority, the arts and especially the decorative
arts, mysteries and taboos of various kinds especially surrounding the
matter of sex, and some form of that fundamental thing which is the
chief concern of this enquiry; the thing that we call religion.

Now Egypt and Babylon, those two primeval monsters, might in this matter
have been specially provided as models. They might almost be called
working models to show how these modern theories do not work. The two
great truths we know about these two great cultures happen to contradict
flatly the two current fallacies which have just been considered. The
story of Egypt might have been invented to point the moral that man does
not necessarily begin with despotism because he is barbarous, but very
often finds his way to despotism because he is civilised. He finds it
because he is experienced; or, what is often much the same thing,
because he is exhausted And the story of Babylon might have been
invented to point the moral that man need not be a nomad or a communist
before he becomes a peasant or a citizen, and that such cultures are not
always in successive stages but often in contemporary states. Even
touching these great civilisations with which our written history begins
there is a temptation of course to be too ingenious or too cocksure. We
can read the bricks of Babylon in a very different sense from that in
which we guess about the Cup and Ring stones; and we do definitely know
what is meant by the animals in the Egyptian hieroglyphic as we know
nothing of the animal in the neolithic cave. But even here the admirable
archeologists who have deciphered line after line of miles of
hieroglyphics may be tempted to read too much between the lines; even
the real authority on Babylon may forget how fragmentary is his hard-won
knowledge; may forget that Babylon has only heaved half a brick at him,
though half a brick is better than no cuneiform. But some truths,
historic and not prehistoric, dogmatic and not evolutionary, facts and
not fancies, do indeed emerge from Egypt and Babylon; and these two
truths are among them.

Egypt is a green ribbon along the river edging the dark red desolation
of the desert. It is a proverb, and one of vast antiquity, that it is
created by the mysterious bounty and almost sinister benevolence of the
Nile. When we first hear of Egyptians they are living as in a string of
river-side villages, in small and separate but co-operative communities
along the bank of the Nile. Where the river branched into the broad
Delta there was traditionally the beginning of a somewhat different
district or people; but this need not complicate the main truth. These
more or less independent though interdependent peoples were considerably
civilised already. They had a sort of heraldry; that is, decorative art
used for symbolic and social purposes; each sailing the Nile under its
own ensign representing some bird or animal. Heraldry involves two
things of enormous importance to normal humanity; the combination of the
two making that noble thing called co-operation; on which rest all
peasantries and peoples that are free. The art of heraldry means
independence; an image chosen by the imagination to express the
individuality. The science of heraldry means interdependence; an
agreement between different bodies to recognise different images; a
science of imagery. We have here therefore exactly that compromise of
co-operation between free families or groups which is the most normal
mode of life for humanity and is particularly apparent wherever men own
their own land and live on it. With the very mention of the image of
bird and beast the student of mythology will murmur the word 'totem'
almost in his sleep. But to my mind much of the trouble arises from his
habit of saying such words as if in his sleep. Throughout this rough
outline I have made a necessarily inadequate attempt to keep on the
inside rather than the outside of such things; to consider them where
possible in terms of thought and not merely in terms of terminology.
There is very little value in talking about totems unless we have some
feeling of what it really felt like to have a totem. Granted that they
had totems and we have no totems; was it because they had more fear of
animals or more familiarity with animals? Did a man whose totem was a
wolf feel like a were-wolf or like a man running away from a were-wolf?
Did he feel like Uncle Remus about Brer Wolf or like St. Francis about
his brother the wolf, or like Mowgli about his brothers the wolves? Was
a totem a thing like the British lion or a thing like the British
bull-dog? Was the worship of a totem like the feeling of niggers about
Mumbo Jumbo, or of children about Jumbo? I have never read any book of
folk-lore, however learned, that gave me any light upon this question,
which I think by far the most important one. I will confine myself to
repeating that the earliest Egyptian communities had a common
understanding about the images that stood for their individual states;
and that this amount of communication is prehistoric in the sense that
it is already there at the beginning of history. But as history unfolds
itself, this question of communication is clearly the main question of
these riverside communities. With the need of communication comes the
need of a common government and the growing greatness and spreading
shadow of the king. The other binding force besides the king, and
perhaps older than the king, is the priesthood; and the priesthood has
presumably even more to do with these ritual symbols and signals by
which men can communicate. And here in Egypt arose probably the primary
and certainly the typical invention to which we owe all history, and the
whole difference between the historic and the prehistoric: the
archetypal script, the art of writing.

The popular pictures of these primeval empires are not half so popular
as they might be. There is shed over them the shadow of an exaggerated
gloom, more than the normal and even healthy sadness of heathen men. It
is part of the same sort of secret pessimism that loves to make
primitive man a crawling creature, whose body is filth and whose soul is
fear. It comes of course from the fact that men are moved most by their
religion; especially when it is irreligion. For them anything primary
and elemental must be evil. But it is the curious consequence that while
we have been deluged with the wildest experiments in primitive romance,
they have all missed the real romance of being primitive. They have
described scenes that are wholly imaginary, in which the men of the
Stone Age are men of stone like walking statues; in which the Assyrians
or Egyptians are as stiff or as painted as their own most archaic art.
But none of these makers of imaginary scenes have tried to imagine what
it must really have been like to see those things as fresh which we see
as familiar. They have not seen a man discovering fire like a child
discovering fireworks. They have not seen a man playing with the
wonderful invention called the wheel, like a boy playing at putting up a
wireless station. They have never put the spirit of youth into their
descriptions of the youth of the world. It follows that amid all their
primitive or prehistoric fancies there are no jokes. There are not even
practical jokes, in connection with the practical inventions. And this
is very sharply defined in the particular case of hieroglyphics; for
there seems to be serious indication that the whole high human art of
scripture or writing began with a joke.

There are some who will learn with regret that it seems to have begun
with a pun. The king or the priests or some responsible persons, wishing
to send a message up the river in that inconveniently long and narrow
territory, hit on the idea of sending it in picture writing, like that
of the Red Indian. Like most people who have written picture-writing for
fun, he found the words did not always fit. But when the word for taxes
sounded rather like the word for pig, he boldly put down a pig as a bad
pun and chanced it. So a modern hieroglyphist might represent 'at once'
by unscrupulously drawing a hat followed by a series of upright
numerals. It was good enough for the Pharaohs and ought to be good
enough for him. But it must have been great fun to write or even to read
these messages, when writing and reading were really a new thing. And if
people must write romances about ancient Egypt (and it seems that
neither prayers nor tears nor curses can withhold them from the habit),
I suggest that scenes like this would really remind us that the ancient
Egyptians were human beings. I suggest that somebody should describe the
scene of the great monarch sitting among his priests, and all of them
roaring with laughter and bubbling over with suggestions as the royal
puns grew more and more wild and indefensible. There might be another
scene of almost equal excitement about the decoding of this cipher; the
guesses and clues and discoveries having all the popular thrill of a
detective story. That is how primitive romance and primitive history
really ought to be written. For whatever was the quality of the
religious or moral life of remote times, and it was probably much more
human than is conventionally supposed, the scientific interest of such a
time must have been intense. Words must have been more wonderful than
wireless telegraphy; and experiments with common things a series of
electric shocks. We are still waiting for somebody to write a lively
story of primitive life. The point is in some sense a parenthesis here;
but it is connected with the general matter of political development, by
the institution which was most active in these first and most
fascinating of all the fairy-tales of science.

It is admitted that we owe most of this science to the priests. Modern
writers like Mr. Wells cannot be accused of any weakness of sympathy
with a pontifical hierarchy; but they agree at least in recognising what
pagan priesthoods did for the arts and sciences. Among the more ignorant
of the enlightened there was indeed a convention of saying that priests
had obstructed progress in all ages; and a politician once told me in a
debate that I was resisting modern reforms exactly as some ancient
priest probably resisted the discovery of wheels. I pointed out, in
reply, that it was far more likely that the ancient priest made the
discovery of the wheels. It is overwhelmingly probable that the ancient
priest had a great deal to do with the discovery of the art of writing.
It is obvious enough in the fact that the very word hieroglyphic is akin
to the word hierarchy. The religion of these priests was apparently a
more or less tangled polytheism of a type that is more particularly
described elsewhere. It passed through a period when it cooperated with
the king, another period when it was temporarily destroyed by the king,
who happened to be a prince with a private theism of his own, and a
third period when it practically destroyed the king and ruled in his
stead. But the world has to thank it for many things which it considers
common and necessary: and the creators of those common things ought
really to have a place among the heroes of humanity. If we were at rest
in a real paganism, instead of being restless in a rather irrational
reaction from Christianity, we might pay some sort of pagan honour to
these nameless makers of mankind. We might have veiled statues of the
man who first found fire or the man who first made a boat or the man who
first tamed a horse. And if we brought them garlands or sacrifices,
there would be more sense in it than in disfiguring our cities with
cockney statues of stale politicians and philanthropists. But one of the
strange marks of the strength of Christianity is that, since it came, no
pagan in our civilisation has been able to be really human.

The point is here, however, that the Egyptian government, whether
pontifical or royal, found it more and more necessary to establish
communication; and there always went with communication a certain
element of coercion. It is not necessarily an indefensible thing that
the state grew more despotic as it grew more civilised; it is arguable
that it had to grow more despotic in order to grow more civilised. That
is the argument for autocracy in every age; and the interest lies in
seeing it illustrated in the earliest age. But it is emphatically not
true that it was most despotic in the earliest age and grew more liberal
in a later age; the practical process of history is exactly the reverse.
It is not true that the tribe began in the extreme of terror of the Old
Man and his seat and spear; it is probable, at least in Egypt, that the
Old Man was rather a New Man armed to attack new conditions. His spear
grew longer and longer and his throne rose higher and higher, as Egypt
rose into a complex and complete civilisation. That is what I mean by
saying that the history of the Egyptian territory is in this the history
of the earth; and directly denies the vulgar assumption that terrorism
can only come at the beginning and cannot come at the end. We do not
know what was the very first condition of the more or less feudal
amalgam of land owners, peasants and slaves in the little commonwealths
beside the Nile; but it may have been a peasantry of an even more
popular sort. What we do know is that it was by experience and education
that little commonwealths lose their liberty; that absolute sovereignty
is something not merely ancient but rather relatively modern; and it is
at the end of the path called progress that men return to the king.

Egypt exhibits, in that brief record of its remotest beginnings, the
primary problem of liberty and civilisation. It is the fact that men
actually lose variety by complexity. We have not solved the problem
properly any more than they did; but it vulgarises the human dignity of
the problem itself to suggest that even tyranny has no motive save in
tribal terror. And just as the Egyptian example refutes the fallacy
about despotism and civilisation, so does the Babylonian example refute
the fallacy about civilisation and barbarism. Babylon also we first hear
of when it is already civilised; for the simple reason that we cannot
hear of anything until it is educated enough to talk. It talks to us in
what is called cuneiform; that strange and stiff triangular symbolism
that contrasts with the picturesque alphabet of Egypt. However
relatively rigid Egyptian art may be, there is always something
different from the Babylonian spirit which was too rigid to have any
art. There is always a living grace in the lines of the lotus and
something of rapidity as well as rigidity in the movement of the arrows
and the birds. Perhaps there is something of the restrained but living
curve of the river, which makes us in talking of the serpent of old Nile
almost think of the Nile as a serpent. Babylon was a civilisation of
diagrams rather than of drawings. Mr. W.B. Yeats who has a historical
imagination to match his mythological imagination (and indeed the former
is impossible without the latter) wrote truly of the men who watched the
stars 'from their pedantic Babylon.' The cuneiform was cut upon bricks,
of which all their architecture was built up; the bricks were of baked
mud and perhaps the material had something in it forbidding the sense of
form to develop in sculpture or relief. Theirs was a static but a
scientific civilisation, far advanced in the machinery of life and in
some ways highly modern. It is said that they had much of the modern
cult of the higher spinsterhood and recognised an official class of
independent working women. There is perhaps something in that mighty
stronghold of hardened mud that suggests the utilitarian activity of a
huge hive. But though it was huge it was human; we see many of the same
social problems as in ancient Egypt or modern England; and whatever its
evils this also was one of the earliest masterpieces of man. It stood,
of course, in the triangle formed by the almost legendary rivers of
Tigris and Euphrates, and the vast agriculture of its empire, on which
its towns depended, was perfected by a highly scientific system of
canals. It had by tradition a high intellectual life, though rather
philosophic than artistic; and there preside over its primal foundation
those figures who have come to stand for the star-gazing wisdom of
antiquity; the teachers of Abraham; the Chaldees.

Against this solid society, as against some vast bare wall of brick,
there surged age after age the nameless armies of the Nomads. They came
out of the deserts where the nomadic life had been lived from the
beginning and where it is still lived to-day. It is needless to dwell on
the nature of that life; it was obvious enough and even easy enough to
follow a herd or a flock which generally found its own grazing-ground
and to live on the milk or meat it provided. Nor is there any reason to
doubt that this habit of life could give almost every human thing except
a home. Many such shepherds or herds men may have talked in the earliest
time of all the truths and enigmas of the Book of Job; and of these were
Abraham and his children, who have given to the modern world for an
endless enigma the almost mono-maniac monotheism of the Jews. But they
were a wild people without comprehension of complex social organisation;
and a spirit like the wind within them made them wage war on it again
and again. The history of Babylonia is largely the history of its
defence against the desert hordes; who came on at intervals of a century
or two and generally retreated as they came. Some say that an admixture
of nomad invasion built at Nineveh the arrogant kingdom of the
Assyrians, who carved great monsters upon their temples, bearded bulls
with wings like cherubim, and who sent forth many military conquerors
who stamped the world as if with such colossal hooves. Assyria was an
imperial interlude; but it was an interlude. The main story of all that
land is the war between the wandering peoples and the state that was
truly static. Presumably in prehistoric times, and certainly in historic
times, those wanderers went westward to waste whatever they could find.
The last time they came they found Babylon vanished; but that was in
historic times and the name of their leader was Mahomet.

Now it is worth while to pause upon that story because, as has been
suggested, it directly contradicts the impression still current that
nomadism is merely a prehistoric thing and social settlement a
comparatively recent thing. There is nothing to show that the
Babylonians had ever wandered; there is very little to show that the
tribes of the desert ever settled down. Indeed it is probable that this
notion of a nomadic stage followed by a static stage has already been
abandoned by the sincere and genuine scholars to whose researches we all
owe so much. But I am not at issue in this book with sincere and genuine
scholars, but with a vast and vague public opinion which has been
prematurely spread from certain imperfect investigations, and which has
made fashionable a false notion of the whole history of humanity. It is
the whole vague notion that a monkey evolved into a man and in the same
way a barbarian evolved into a civilised man and therefore at every
stage we have to look back to barbarism and forward to civilisation.
Unfortunately this notion is in a double sense entirely in the air. It
is an atmosphere in which men live rather than a thesis which they
defend. Men in that mood are more easily answered by objects than by
theories; and it will be well if anyone tempted to make that assumption,
in some trivial turn of talk or writing, can be checked for a moment by
shutting his eyes and seeing for an instant, vast and vaguely crowded,
like a populous precipice, the wonder of the Babylonian wall.

One fact does certainly fall across us like its shadow. Our glimpses of
both these early empires show that the first domestic relation had been
complicated by something which was less human, but was often regarded as
equally domestic. The dark giant called Slavery had been called up like
a genius and was labouring on gigantic works of brick and stone. Here
again we must not too easily assume that what was backward was barbaric;
in the matter of manumission the earlier servitude seems in some ways
more liberal than the later; perhaps more liberal than the servitude of
the future. To insure food for humanity by forcing part of it to work
was after all a very human expedient; which is why it will probably be
tried again. But in one sense there is a significance in the old
slavery. It stands for one fundamental fact about all antiquity before
Christ; something to be assumed from first to last. It is the
insignificance of the individual before the State. It was as true of the
most democratic City State in Hellas as of any despotism in Babylon. It
is one of the signs of this spirit that a whole class of individuals
could be insignificant or even invisible. It must be normal because it
was needed for what would now be called 'social service.' Somebody said,
'The Man is nothing and the Work is all,' meaning it for a breezy
Carlylean commonplace. It was the sinister motto of the heathen Servile
State. In that sense there is truth in the traditional vision of vast
pillars and pyramids going up under those everlasting skies for ever by
the labour of numberless and nameless men, toiling like ants and dying
like flies, wiped out by the work of their own hands.

But there are two other reasons for beginning with the two fixed points
of Egypt and Babylon. For one thing they are fixed in tradition as the
types of antiquity; and history without tradition is dead. Babylon is
still the burden of a nursery rhyme, and Egypt (with its enormous
population of princesses awaiting reincarnation) is still the topic of
an unnecessary number of novels. But a tradition is generally a truth;
so long as the tradition is sufficiently popular; even if it is almost
vulgar. And there is a significance in this Babylonian and Egyptian
element in nursery rhymes and novels; even the news papers, normally so
much behind the times, have already got as far as the reign of
Tutankhamen. The first reason is full of the common sense of popular
legend; it is the simple fact that we do know more of these traditional
things than of other contemporary things; and that we always did. All
travellers from Herodotus to Lord Carnarvon follow this route.
Scientific speculations of to-day do indeed spread out a map of the
whole primitive world, with streams of racial emigration or admixture
marked in dotted lines everywhere; over spaces which the unscientific
medieval map-maker would have been content to call 'Terra incognita,' if
he did not fill the inviting blank with a picture of a dragon, to
indicate the probable reception given to pilgrims. But these
speculations are only speculations at the best; and at the worst the
dotted lines can be far more fabulous than the dragon.

There is unfortunately one fallacy here into which it is very easy for
men to fall, even those who are most intelligent and perhaps especially
those who are most imaginative. It is the fallacy of suppositing that
because an idea is greater in the sense of larger, therefore it is
greater in the sense of more fundamental and fixed and certain. If a man
lives alone in a straw hut in the middle of Thibet, he may be told that
he is living in the Chinese Empire; and the Chinese Empire is certainly
a splendid and spacious and impressive thing. Or alternatively he may be
told that he is living in the British Empire, and be duly impressed. But
the curious thing is that in certain mental states he can feel much more
certain about the Chinese Empire that he can not see than about the
straw hut that he can see. He has some strange magical juggle in his
mind, by which his argument begins with the empire though his experience
begins with the hut. Sometimes he goes mad and appears to be proving
that a straw hut cannot exist in the domains of the Dragon Throne; that
it is impossible for such a civilisation as he enjoys to contain such a
hovel as he inhabits. But his insanity arises from the intellectual slip
of supposing that because China is a large and all-embracing hypothesis,
therefore it is something more than a hypothesis. Now modern people are
perpetually arguing in this way; and they extend it to things much less
real and certain than the Chinese Empire. They seem to forget, for
instance, that a man is not even certain of the Solar System as he is
certain of the South Downs. The Solar System is a deduction, and
doubtless a true deduction; but the point is that it is a very vast and
far-reaching deduction and therefore he forgets that it is a deduction
at all and treats it as a first principle. He might discover that the
whole calculation is a mis-calculation; and the sun and stars and
street-lamps would look exactly the same. But he has forgotten that it
is a calculation, and is almost ready to contradict the sun if it does
not fit into the solar system. If this is a fallacy even in the case of
facts pretty well ascertained, such as the Solar System and the Chinese
Empire, it is an even more devastating fallacy in connection with
theories and other things that are not really ascertained at all. Thus
history, especially prehistoric history, has a horrible habit of
beginning with certain generalisations about races. I will not describe
the disorder and misery this inversion has produced in modern politics.
Because the race is vaguely supposed to have produced the nation, men
talk as if the nation were something vaguer than the race. Because they
have themselves invented a reason to explain a result, they almost deny
the result in order to justify the reason. They first treat a Celt as an
axiom and then treat an Irishman as an inference. And then they are
surprised that a great fighting, roaring Irishman is angry at being
treated as an inference. They cannot see that the Irish are Irish
whether or no they are Celtic, whether or no there ever were any Celts.
And what misleads them once more is the size of the theory; the sense
that the fancy is bigger than the fact. A great scattered Celtic race is
supposed to contain the Irish, so of course the Irish must depend for
their very existence upon it. The same confusion, of course, has
eliminated the English and the Germans by swamping them in the Teutonic
race; and some tried to prove from the races being at one that the
nations could not be at war. But I only give these vulgar and hackneyed
examples in passing, as more familiar examples of the fallacy; the
matter at issue here is not its application to these modern things but
rather to the most ancient things. But the more remote and unrecorded
was the racial problem, the more fixed was this curious inverted
certainty in the Victorian man of science. To this day it gives a man of
those scientific traditions the same sort of shock to question these
things, which were only the last inferences when he turned them into
first principles. He is still more certain that he is an Aryan even than
that he is an Anglo-Saxon, just as he is more certain that he is an
Anglo-Saxon than that he is an Englishman. He has never really
discovered that he is a European. But he has never doubted that he is an
Indo-European. These Victorian theories have shifted a great deal in
their shape and scope; but this habit of a rapid hardening of a
hypothesis into a theory, and of a theory into an assumption, has hardly
yet gone out of fashion. People cannot easily get rid of the mental
confusion of feeling that the foundations of history must surely be
secure; that the first steps must be safe; that the biggest
generalisation must be obvious. But though the contradiction may seem to
them a paradox, this is the very contrary of the truth. It is the large
thing that is secret and invisible; it is the small thing that is
evident and enormous.

Every race on the face of the earth has been the subject of these
speculations, and it is impossible even to suggest an outline of the
subject. But if we take the European race alone, its history, or rather
its prehistory, has undergone many retrospective revolutions in the
short period of my own lifetime. It used to be called the Caucasian
race; and I read in childhood an account of its collision with the
Mongolian race; it was written by Bret Harte and opened with the query
'Or is the Caucasian played out?' Apparently the Caucasian was played
out, for in a very short time he had been turned into the Indo-European
man; sometimes, I regret to say, proudly presented as the Indo-Germanic
man. It seems that the Hindu and the German have similar words for
mother or father; there were other similarities between Sanskrit and
various Western tongues; and with that all superficial differences
between a Hindu and a German seemed suddenly to disappear. Generally
this composite person was more conveniently described as the Aryan, and
the really important point was that he had marched westward out of those
high lands of India where fragments of his language could still be
found. When I read this as a child, I had the fancy that after all the
Aryan need not have marched westward and left his language behind him;
he might also have marched eastward and taken his language with him. If
I were to read it now, I should content myself with confessing my
ignorance of the whole matter. But as a matter of fact I have great
difficulty in reading it now, because it is not being written now. It
looks as if the Aryan is also played out. Anyhow he has not merely
changed his name but changed his address; his starting-place and his
route of travel. One new theory maintains that our race did not come to
its present home from the East but from the South. Some say the
Europeans did not come from Asia but from Africa. Some have even had the
wild idea that the Europeans came from Europe; or rather that they never
left it.

Then there is a certain amount of evidence of a more or less prehistoric
pressure from the North, such as that which seems to have brought the
Greeks to inherit the Cretan culture and so often brought the Gauls over
the hills into the fields in Italy. But I merely mention this example of
European ethnology to point out that the learned have pretty well boxed
the compass by this time; and that I, who am not one of the learned,
cannot pretend for a moment to decide where such doctors disagree. But I
can use my own common sense, and I sometimes fancy that theirs is a
little rusty from want of use. The first act of common sense is to
recognise the difference between a cloud and a mountain. And I will
affirm that nobody knows any of these things, in the sense that we all
know of the existence of the Pyramids of Egypt.

The truth, it may be repeated, is that what we really see, as distinct
from what we may reasonably guess, in this earliest phase of history is
darkness covering the earth and great darkness the peoples, with a light
or two gleaming here and there on chance patches of humanity; and that
two of these flames do burn upon two of these tall primeval towns; upon
the high terraces of Babylon and the huge pyramids of the Nile. There
are indeed other ancient lights, or lights that may be conjectured to be
very ancient, in very remote parts of that vast wilderness of night. Far
away to the east there is a high civilisation of vast antiquity in
China; there are the remains of civilisations in Mexico and South
America and other places, some of them apparently so high in
civilisation as to have reached the most refined forms of devil-worship.
But the difference lies in the element old tradition; the tradition of
these lost cultures has been broken off, and though the tradition of
China still lives, it is doubtful whether we know anything about it.
Moreover, a man trying to measure the Chinese antiquity has to use
Chinese traditions of measurement; and he has a strange sensation of
having passed into another world under other laws of time and space.
Time is telescoped outwards and centuries assume the slow and stiff
movement of aeons; the white man trying to see it as the yellow man
sees, feels as if his head were turning round and wonders wildly whether
it is growing a pigtail. Any how he cannot take in a scientific sense
that queer perspective that leads up to the primeval pagoda of the first
of the Sons of Heaven. He is the real antipodes; the only true
alternative world to Christendom; and he is after a fashion walking
upside down. I have spoken of the medieval map-maker and his dragon; but
what medieval traveller, however much interested in monsters, would
expect to find a country where a dragon is a benevolent and amiable
being? Of the more serious side of Chinese tradition something will be
said in another connection; but I am only talking of tradition and the
test of antiquity. And I only mention China as an antiquity that is not
for us reached by a bridge old tradition; and Babylon and Egypt as
antiquities that are. Herodotus is a human being, in a sense in which a
Chinaman in a billy-cock hat, sitting opposite to us in a London tea
shop, is hardly human. We feel as if we knew what David and Isaiah felt
like, in a way in which we never were quite certain what Li Hung Chang
felt like. The very sins that snatched away Helen or Bathsheba have
passed into a proverb of private human weakness, of pathos and even of
pardon. The very virtues of the Chinaman have about them something
terrifying. This is the difference made by the destruction or
preservation of a continuous historical inheritance; as from ancient
Egypt to modern Europe. But when we ask what was that world that we
inherit, and why those particular people and places seem to belong to
it, we are led to the central fact of civilised history.

That centre was the Mediterranean; which was not so much a piece of
water as a world. But it was a world with something of the character of
such a water; for it became more and more a place of unification in
which the streams of strange and very diverse cultures met. The Nile and
the Tiber alike flow into the Mediterranean; so did the Egyptian and the
Etrurian alike contribute to a Mediterranean civilisation. The glamour
of the great sea spread indeed very far in land and the unity was felt
among the Arabs alone in the deserts and the Gauls beyond the northern
hills. But the gradual building up of a common culture running round all
the coasts of this inner sea is the main business of antiquity. As will
be seen, it was sometimes a bad business as well as a good business. In
that orbis terrarum or circle of lands there were the extremes of evil
and of piety, there were contrasted races and still more contrasted
religions. It was the scene of an endless struggle between Asia and
Europe from the night of the Persian ships at Salamis to the flight of
the Turkish ships at Lepanto. It was the scene, as will be more
especially suggested later, of a supreme spiritual struggle between the
two types of paganism, confronting each other in the Latin and the
Phoenician cities; in the Roman forum and the Punic mart. It was the
world of war and peace, the world of good and evil, the world of all
that matters most, with all respect to the Aztecs and the Mongols of the
Far East, they did not matter as the Mediterranean tradition mattered
and still matters. Between it and the Far East there were, of course,
interesting cults and conquests of various kinds, more or less in touch
with it, and in proportion as they were so intelligible also to us. The
Persians came riding in to make an end of Babylon; and we are told in a
Greek story how these barbarians learned to draw the bow and tell the
truth. Alexander the great Greek marched with his Macedonians into the
sunrise and brought back strange birds coloured like the sunrise clouds
and strange flowers and jewels from the gardens and treasuries of
nameless kings. Islam went eastward into that world and made it partly
imaginable to us; precisely because Islam itself was born in that circle
of lands that fringed our own ancient and ancestral sea. In the Middle
Ages the empire of the Moguls increased its majesty without losing its
mystery; the Tartars conquered China and the Chinese apparently took
very little notice of them. All these things are interesting in
themselves; but it is impossible to shift the centre of gravity to the
inland spaces of Asia from the inland sea of Europe. When all is said,
if there were nothing in the world but what was said and done and
written and built in the lands lying round the Mediterranean, it would
still be in all the most vital and valuable things the world in which we
live. When that southern culture spread to the north-west it produced
many very wonderful things; of which doubtless we ourselves are the most
wonderful. When it spread thence to colonies and new countries, it was
still the same culture so long as it was culture at all. But round that
little sea like a lake were the things themselves, apart from all
extensions and echoes and commentaries on the things, the Republic and
the Church; the Bible and the heroic epics; Islam and Israel and the
memories of the lost empires, Aristotle and the measure of all things.
It is because the first light upon this world is really light, the
daylight in which we are still walking to-day, and not merely the
doubtful visitation of strange stars, that I have begun here with noting
where that light first falls on the towered cities of the eastern

But though Babylon and Egypt have thus a sort of first claim, in the
very fact of being familiar and traditional, fascinating riddles to us
but also fascinating riddles to our fathers, we must not imagine that
they were the only old civilisations on the southern sea; or that all
the civilisation was merely Sumerian or Semitic or Coptic, still less
merely Asiatic or African. Real research is more and more exalting the
ancient civilisation of Europe and especially of what we may still
vaguely call the Greeks. It must be understood in the sense that there
were Greeks before the Greeks, as in so many of their mythologies there
were gods before the gods. The island of Crete was the centre of the
civilisation now called Minoan, after the Minos who lingered in ancient
legend and whose labyrinth was actually discovered by modern archeology.
This elaborate European society, with its harbours and its drainage and
its domestic machinery, seems to have gone down before some invasion of
its northern neighbours, who made or inherited the Hellas we know in
history. But that earlier period did not pass till it had given to the
world gifts so great that the world has ever since been striving in vain
to repay them, if only by plagiarism.

Somewhere along the Ionian coast opposite Crete and the islands was a
town of some sort, probably of the sort that we should call a village or
hamlet with a wall. It was called Ilion but it came to be called Troy,
and the name will never perish from the earth. A poet who may have been
a beggar and a ballad-monger, who may have been unable to read and
write, and was described by tradition as a blind, composed a poem about
the Greeks going to war with this town to recover the most beautiful
woman in the world. That the most beautiful woman in the world lived in
that one little town sounds like a legend; that the most beautiful poem
in the world was written by somebody who knew of nothing larger than
such little towns is a historical fact. It is said that the poem came at
the end of the period; that the primitive culture brought it forth in
its decay; in which case one would like to have seen that culture in its
prime. But anyhow it is true that this, which is our first poem, might
very well be our last poem too. It might well be the last word as well
as the first word spoken by man about his mortal lot, as seen by merely
mortal vision. If the world becomes pagan and perishes, the last man
left alive would do well to quote the Iliad and die.

But in this one great human revelation of antiquity there is another
element of great historical importance; which has hardly I think been
given its proper place in history. The poet has so conceived the poem
that his sympathies apparently, and those of his reader certainly, are
on the side of the vanquished rather than of the victor. And this is a
sentiment which increases in the poetical tradition even as the poetical
origin itself recedes. Achilles had some status as a sort of demigod in
pagan times; but he disappears altogether in late times. But Hector
grows greater as the ages pass, and it is his name that is the name of a
Knight of the Round Table and his sword that legend puts into the hand
of Roland, laying about him with the weapon of the defeated Hector in
the last ruin and splendour of his own defeat. The name anticipates all
the defeats through which our race and religion were to pass; that
survival of a hundred defeats that is its triumph.

The tale of the end of Troy shall have no ending, for it is lifted up
forever into living echoes, immortal as our hopelessness and our hope.
Troy standing was a small thing that may have stood nameless for ages.
But Troy falling has been caught up in a flame and suspended in an
immortal instant of annihilation; and because it was destroyed with fire
the fire shall never be destroyed. And as with the city so with the
hero; traced in archaic lines in that primeval twilight is found the
first figure of the Knight. There is a prophetic coincidence in his
title; we have spoken of the word chivalry and how it seems to mingle
the horseman with the horse. It is almost anticipated ages before in the
thunder of the Homeric hexameter, and that long leaping word with which
the Iliad ends. It is that very unity for which we can find no name but
the holy centaur of chivalry. But there are other reasons for giving in
this glimpse of antiquity the name upon the sacred town. The sanctity of
such towns ran like a fire round the coasts and islands of the northern
Mediterranean, the high-fenced hamlet for which heroes died. From the
smallness of the city came the greatness of the citizen. Hellas with her
hundred statues produced nothing statelier than that walking statue; the
ideal of the self-commanding man. Hellas of the hundred statues was one
legend and literature; and all that labyrinth of little walled nations
resounding with the lament of Troy.

A later legend, an afterthought but not an accident, said that
stragglers from Troy founded a republic on the Italian shore. It was
true in spirit that republican virtue had such a root. A mystery of
honour, that was not born of Babylon or the Egyptian pride, there shone
like the shield of Hector, defying Asia and Africa; till the light of a
new day was loosened, with the rushing of the eagles and the coming of
the name; the name that came like a thunderclap when the world woke to

* * *



I was once escorted over the Roman foundations of an ancient British
city by a professor, who said something that seems to me a satire on a
good many other professors. Possibly the professor saw the joke, though
he maintained an iron gravity, and may or may not have realised that it
was a joke against a great deal of what is called comparative religion.
I pointed out a sculpture of the head of the sun with the usual halo of
rays, but with the difference that the face in the disc, instead of
being boyish like Apollo, was bearded like Neptune or Jupiter. 'Yes,' he
said with a certain delicate exactitude, 'that is supposed to represent
the local god Sul. The best authorities identify Sul with Minerva, but
this has been held to show that the identification is not complete.'

That is what we call a powerful understatement. The modern world is
madder than any satires on it; long ago Mr. Belloc made his burlesque
don say that a bust of Ariadne had been proved by modern research to be
a Silenus. But that is not better than the real appearance of Minerva as
the Bearded Woman of Mr. Barnum. Only both of them are very like many
identifications by 'the best authorities' on comparative religion; and
when Catholic creeds are identified with various wild myths, I do not
laugh or curse or misbehave myself; I confine myself decorously to
saying that the identification is not complete.

In the days of my youth the Religion of Humanity was a term commonly
applied to Comtism, the theory of certain rationalists who worshipped
corporate mankind as a Supreme Being. Even in the days of my youth, I
remarked that there was something slightly odd about despising and
dismissing the doctrine of the Trinity as a mystical and even maniacal
contradiction; and then asking us to adore a deity who is a hundred
million persons in one God, neither confounding the persons nor dividing
the substance.

But there is another entity, more or less definable and much more
imaginable than the many-headed and monstrous idol of mankind. And it
has a much better light to be called, in a reasonable sense, the
religion of humanity. Man is not indeed the idol; but man is almost
everywhere the idolator. And these multitudinous idolatries of man kind
have something about them in many ways more human and sympathetic than
modern metaphysical abstractions. If an Asiatic god has three heads and
seven arms, there is at least in it an idea of material incarnation
bringing an unknown power nearer to us and not farther away. But if our
friends Brown, Jones, and Robinson, when out for a Sunday walk, were
transformed and amalgamated into an Asiatic idol before our eyes, they
would surely seem farther away. If the arms of Brown and the legs of
Robinson waved from the same composite body, they would seem to be
waving something of a sad farewell. If the heads of an three gentlemen
appeared smiling on the same neck, we should hesitate even by what name
to address our new and somewhat abnormal friend. In the many-headed and
many-handed Oriental idol there is a certain sense of mysteries be
coming at least partly intelligible; of formless forces of nature taking
some dark but material form, but though this may be true of the
multiform god it is not so of the multiform man The human beings be come
less human by becoming less separate; we might say less human in being
less lonely. The human beings become less intelligible as they become
less isolated; we might say with strict truth that the closer they are
to us the farther they are away. An Ethical Hymn-book of this
humanitarian sort of religion was carefully selected and expurgated on
the principle of preserving anything human and eliminating anything
divine. One consequence was that a hymn appeared in the amended form of
'Nearer Mankind to Thee, nearer to Thee.' It always suggested to me the
sensations of a strap-hanged during a crush on the Tube. But it is
strange and wonderful how far away the souls of men can seem, when their
bodies are so near as all that.

The human unity with which I deal here is not to be confounded with this
modern industrial monotony and herding, which is rather a congestion
than a communion. It is a thing to which human groups left to
themselves, and even human individuals left to themselves, have
everywhere tended by an instinct that may truly be called human. Like
all healthy human things, it has varied very much within the limits of a
general character; for that is characteristic of everything belonging to
that ancient land of liberty that lies before and around the servile
industrial town. Industrialism actually boasts that its products are all
of one pattern; that men in Jamaica or Japan can break the same seal and
drink the same bad whiskey, that a man at the North Pole and another at
the South might recognise the same optimistic level on the same dubious
tinned salmon. But wine, the gift of gods to men, can vary with every
valley and every vineyard, can turn into a hundred wines without any
wine once reminding us of whiskey; and cheeses can change from county to
county without forgetting the difference between chalk and cheese. When
I am speaking of this thing, therefore, I am speaking of something that
doubtless includes very wide differences; nevertheless I will here
maintain that it is one thing. I will maintain that most of the modern
botheration comes from not realising that it is really one thing. I will
advance the thesis that before all talk about comparative religion and
the separate religious founders of the world, the first essential is to
recognise this thing as a whole, as a thing almost native and normal to
the great fellowship that we call mankind. This thing is Paganism, and I
propose to show in these pages that it is the one real rival to the
Church of Christ.

Comparative religion is very comparative indeed. That is, it is so much
a matter of degree and distance and difference that it is only
comparatively successful when it tries to compare. When we come to look
at it closely we find it comparing things that are really quite
incomparable. We are accustomed to see a table or catalogue of the
world's great religions in parallel columns, until we fancy they are
really parallel. We are accustomed to see the names of the great
religious founders all in a row: Christ; Mahomet; Buddha; Confucius. But
in truth this is only a trick, another of these optical illusions by
which any objects may be put into a particular relation by shifting to a
particular point of sight. Those religions and religious founders, or
rather those whom we choose to lump together as religions and religious
founders, do not really show any common character. The illusion is
partly produced by Islam coming immediately after Christianity in the
list; as Islam did come after Christianity and was largely an imitation
of Christianity. But the other eastern religions, or what we call
religions, not only do not resemble the Church but do not resemble each
other. When we come to Confucianism at the end of the list, we come to
something in a totally different world of thought. To compare the
Christian and Confucian religions is like comparing a theist with an
English squire or asking whether a man is a believer in immortality or a
hundred-per-cent American. Confucianism may be a civilisation but it is
not a religion.

In truth the Church is too unique to prove herself unique. For most
popular and easy proof is by parallel; and here there is no parallel. It
is not easy, therefore, to expose the fallacy by which a false
classification is created to swamp a unique thing, when it really is a
unique thing. As there is nowhere else exactly the same fact, so there
is nowhere else exactly the same fallacy. But I will take the nearest
thing I can find to such a solitary social phenomenon, in order to show
how it is thus swamped and assimilated. I imagine most of us would agree
that there is something unusual and unique about the position of the
Jews. There is nothing that is quite in the same sense an international
nation; an ancient culture scattered in different countries but still
distinct and indestructible. Now this business is like an attempt to
make a list of Nomadic Nations in order to soften the strange solitude
of the Jew. It would be easy enough to do it, by the same process of
putting a plausible approximation first, and then tailing off into
totally different things thrown in somehow to make up the list. Thus in
the new list of nomadic nations the Jews would be followed by the
Gypsies; who at least are really nomadic if they are not really
national. Then the professor of the new science of Comparative Nomadics
could pass easily on to something different; even if it was very
different. He could remark on the wandering adventure of the English who
had scattered their colonies over so many seas; and call them nomads. It
is quite true that a great many Englishmen seem to be strangely restless
in England. It is quite true that not all of them have left their
country for their country's good. The moment we mention the wandering
empire of the English, we must add the strange exiled empire of the
Irish. For it is a curious fact, to be noted in our imperial literature,
that the same ubiquity and unrest which is a proof of English enterprise
and triumph is a proof of Irish futility and failure. Then the professor
of Nomadism would look round thoughtfully and remember that there was
great talk recently of German waiters, German barbers, German clerks,
Germans naturalising themselves in England and the United States and the
South American republics. The Germans would go down as the fifth nomadic
race; the words Wanderlust and Folk-Wandering would come in very useful
here. For there really have been historians who explained the Crusades
by suggesting that the Germans were found wandering (as the police say)
in what happened to be the neighbourhood of Palestine. Then the
professor, feeling he was now near the end, would make a last leap in
desperation. He would recall the fact that the French army has captured
nearly every capital in Europe, that it marched across countless
conquered lands under Charlemagne or Napoleon; and that would be
wanderlust and that would be the note of a nomadic race. Thus he would
have his six nomadic nations all compact and complete, and would feel
that the Jew was no longer a sort of mysterious and even mystical
exception. But people with more common sense would probably realise that
he had only extended nomadism by extending the meaning of nomadism, and
that he had extended that until it really had no meaning at all. It is
quite true that the French soldier has made some of the finest marches
in all military history. But it is equally true, and far more
self-evident, that if the French peasant is not a rooted reality there
is no such thing as a rooted reality in the world; or in other words, if
he is a nomad there is nobody who is not a nomad.

Now that is the sort of trick that has been tried in the case of
comparative religion and the world's religious founders all standing
respectably in a row. It seeks to classify Jesus as the other would
classify Jews, by inventing a new class for the purpose and filling up
the rest of it with stop-gaps and second-rate copies. I do not mean that
these other things are not often great things in their own real
character and class. Confucianism and Buddhism are great things, but it
is not true to call them Churches; just as the French and English are
great peoples, but it is nonsense to call them nomads. There are some
points of resemblance between Christendom and its imitation in Islam;
for that matter there are some points of resemblance between Jews and
Gypsies. But after that the lists are made up of anything that comes to
hand; of anything that can be put in the same catalogue without being in
the same category.

In this sketch of religious history, with all decent deference to men
much more learned than myself, I propose to cut across and disregard
this modern method of classification, which I feel sure has falsified
the facts of history. I shall here submit an alternative classification
of religion or religions, which I believe would be found to cover all
the facts and, what is quite as important here, all the fancies. Instead
of dividing religion geographically and as it were vertically, into
Christian, Moslem, Brahmin, Buddhist, and so on, I would divide it
psychologically and in some sense horizontally; into the strata of
spiritual elements and influences that could sometimes exist in the same
country, or even in the same man. Putting the Church apart for the
moment, I should be disposed to divide the natural religion of the mass
of mankind under such headings as these: God; the Gods; the Demons; the
Philosophers. I believe some such classification will help us to sort
out the spiritual experiences of men much more successfully than the
conventional business of comparing religions; and that many famous
figures will naturally fall into their place in this way who are only
forced into their place in the other. As I shall make use of these
titles or terms more than once in narrative and allusion, it will be
well to define at this stage for what I mean them to stand. And I will
begin with the first, the simplest and the most sublime, in this

In considering the elements of pagan humanity, we must begin by an
attempt to describe the indescribable. Many get over the difficulty of
describing it by the expedient of denying it, or at least ignoring it;
but the whole point of it is that it was something that was never quite
eliminated even when it was ignored. They are obsessed by their
evolutionary monomania that every great thing grows from a seed, or
something smaller than itself. They seem to forget that every seed comes
from a tree, or something larger than itself. Now there is very good
ground for guessing that religion did not originally come from some
detail that was forgotten, because it was too small to be traced. Much
more probably it was an idea that was abandoned because it was too large
to be managed. There is very good reason to suppose that many people did
begin with the simple but overwhelming idea of one God who governs all;
and afterwards fell away into such things as demon-worship almost as a
sort of secret dissipation. Even the test of savage beliefs, of which
the folk-lore students are so fond, is admittedly often found to support
such a view. Some of the very rudest savages, primitive in every sense
in which anthropologists use the word, the Australian aborigines for
instance, are found to have a pure monotheism with a high moral tone. A
missionary was preaching to a very wild tribe of polytheists, who had
told him all their polytheistic tales, and telling them in return of the
existence of the one good God who is a spirit and judges men by
spiritual standards. And there was a sudden buzz of excitement among
these stolid barbarians, as at somebody who was letting out a secret,
and they cried to each other, 'Atahocan! He is speaking of Atahocan!'

Probably it was a point of politeness and even decency among those
polytheists not to speak of Atahocan. The name is not perhaps so much
adapted as some of our own to direct and solemn religious exhortation
but many other social forces are always covering up and confusing such
simple ideas. Possibly the old god stood for an old morality found
irksome in more expansive moments; possibly intercourse with demons was
more fashionable among the best people, as in the modern fashion of
Spiritualism. Anyhow, there are any number of similar examples. They all
testify to the unmistakable psychology of a thing taken for granted, as
distinct from a thing talked about. There is a striking example in a
tale taken down word for word from a Red Indian in California which
starts out with hearty legendary and literary relish: 'The sun is the
father and ruler of the heavens. He is the big chief. The moon is his
wife and the stars are their children'; and so on through a most
ingenious and complicated story, in the middle of which is a sudden
parenthesis saying that the sun and moon have to do something because
'It is ordered that way by the Great Spirit Who lives above the place of
all.' That is exactly the attitude of most paganism towards God. He is
something assumed and forgotten and remembered by accident; a habit
possibly not peculiar to pagans. Sometimes the higher deity is
remembered in the higher moral grades and is a sort of mystery. But
always, it has been truly said, the savage is talkative about his
mythology and taciturn about his religion. The Australian savages,
indeed, exhibit a topsyturveydom such as the ancients might have thought
truly worthy of the antipodes. The savage who thinks nothing of tossing
off such a trifle as a tale of the sun and moon being the halves of a
baby chopped in two, or dropping into small-talk about a colossal cosmic
cow milked to make the rain, merely in order to be sociable, will then
retire to secret caverns sealed against women and white men, temples of
terrible initiation where to the thunder of the bull-roarer and the
dripping of sacrificial blood, the priest whispers the final secrets,
known only to the initiate: that honesty is the best policy, that a
little kindness does nobody any harm, that all men are brothers and that
there is but one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible
and invisible.

In other words, we have here the curiosity of religious history that the
savage seems to be parading all the most repulsive and impossible parts
of his belief and concealing all the most sensible and creditable parts.
But the explanation is that they are not in that sense parts of his
belief, or at least not parts of the same sort of belief. The myths are
merely tall stories, though as tall as the sky, the water spout, or the
tropic rain. The mysteries are true stories, and are taken secretly that
they may be taken seriously. Indeed it is only too easy to forget that
there is a thrill in theism. A novel in which a number of separate
characters all turned out to be the same character would certainly be a
sensational novel. It is so with the idea that sun and tree and river
are the disguises of one god and not of many. Alas, we also find it only
too easy to take Atahocan for granted. But whether he is allowed to fade
into a truism or preserved as a sensation by being preserved as a
secret, it is clear that he is always either an old truism or an old
tradition. There is nothing to show that he is an improved product of
the mere mythology and everything to show that he preceded it. He is
worshipped by the simplest tribes with no trace of ghosts or
grave-offerings, or any of the complications in which Herbert Spencer
and Grant Allen sought the origin of the simplest of all ideas. Whatever
else there was, there was never as such thing as the Evolution of the
Idea of God. The idea was concealed, was avoided, was almost forgotten,
was even explained away; but it was never evolved.

There are not a few indications of this change in other places It is
implied, for instance, in the fact that even polytheism seems often the
combination of several monotheisms. A god will gain only a minor seat on
Mount Olympus, when he had owned earth and heaven and all the stars
while he lived in his own little valley. Like many a small nation
melting in a great empire, he gives up local universality only to come
under universal limitation. The very name of Pan suggests that he became
a god of the wood when he had been a god of the world. The very name of
Jupiter is almost a pagan translation of the words 'Our Father which art
in heaven.' As with the Great Father symbolised by the sky, so with the
Great Mother whom we still call Mother Earth. Demeter and Ceres and
Cybele often seem to be almost capable of taking over the whole business
of godhood, so that men should need no other gods. It seems reasonably
probable that a good many men did have no other gods but one of these,
worshipped as the author of all.

Over some of the most immense and populous tracts of the world such as
China, it would seem that the simpler idea of the Great Father has never
been very much complicated with rival cults, though it may have in some
sense ceased to be a cult itself. The best authorities seem to think
that though Confucianism is in one sense agnosticism, it does not
directly contradict the old theism, precisely because it has become a
rather vague theism. It is one in which God is called Heaven, as in the
case of polite persons tempted to swear in drawing-rooms. But Heaven is
still overhead, even if it is very far overhead. We have all the
impression of a simple truth that has receded, until it was remote
without ceasing to be true. And this phrase alone would bring us back to
the same idea even in the pagan mythology of the West. There is surely
something of this very notion of the withdrawal of some higher power, in
all those mysterious and very imaginative myths about the separation of
earth and sky. In a hundred forms we are told that heaven and earth were
once lovers, or were once at one, when some upstart thing, often some
undutiful child, thrust them apart; and the world was built on an abyss;
upon a division and a parting. One of its grossest versions was given by
Greek civilisation in the myth of Uranus and Saturn. One of its most
charming versions was that of some savage niggers, who say that a little
pepper-plant grew taller and taller and lifted the whole sky like a lid;
a beautiful barbaric vision of daybreak for some of our painters who
love that tropical twilight. Of myths, and the highly mythical
explanations which the moderns offer of myths, something will be said in
another section; for I cannot but think that most mythology is on
another and more superficial plane. But in this primeval vision of the
rending of one world into two there is surely something more of ultimate
ideas. As to what it means, a man will learn far more about it by lying
on his back in a field, and merely looking at the sky, than by reading
all the libraries even of the most learned and valuable folklore. He
will know what is meant by saying that the sky ought to be nearer to us
than it is, that perhaps it was once nearer than it is, that it is not a
thing merely alien and abysmal but in some fashion sundered from us and
saying farewell. There will creep across his mind the curious suggestion
that after all, perhaps, the myth-maker was not merely a moon-calf or
village idiot thinking he could cut up the clouds like a cake, but had
in him something more than it is fashionable to attribute to the
Troglodyte; that it is just possible that Thomas Hood was not talking
like a Troglodyte when he said that, as time went on, the tree-tops only
told him he was further off from heaven than when he was a boy. But
anyhow the legend of Uranus the Lord of Heaven dethroned by Saturn the
Time Spirit would mean something to the author of that poem. And it
would mean, among other things, this banishment of the first fatherhood.
There is the idea of God in the very notion that there were gods before
the gods. There is an idea of greater simplicity in all the allusions to
that more ancient order. The suggestion is supported by the process of
propagation we see in historic times. Gods and demigods and heroes breed
like herrings before our very eyes and suggest of themselves that the
family may have had one founder; mythology grows more and more
complicated, and the very complication suggests that at the beginning it
was more simple. Even on the external evidence, of the sort called
scientific, there is therefore a very good case for the suggestion that
man began with monotheism before it developed or degenerated into
polytheism. But I am concerned rather with an internal than an external
truth; and, as I have already said, the internal truth is almost
indescribable. We have to speak of something of which it is the whole
point that people did not speak of it; we have not merely to translate
from a strange tongue or speech, but from a strange silence.

I suspect an immense implication behind all polytheism and paganism. I
suspect we have only a hint of it here and there in these savage creeds
or Greek origins. It is not exactly what we mean by the presence of God;
in a sense it might more truly be called the absence of God. But absence
does not mean non-existence; and a man drinking the toast of absent
friends does not mean that from his life all friendship is absent. It is
a void but it is not a negation; it is some thing as positive as an
empty chair. It would be an exaggeration to say that the pagan saw
higher than Olympus an empty throne. It would be nearer the truth to
take the gigantic imagery of the Old Testament, in which the prophet saw
God from behind; it was as if some immeasurable presence had turned its
back on the world. Yet the meaning will again be missed, if it is
supposed to be anything so conscious and vivid as the monotheism of
Moses and his people. I do not mean that the pagan peoples were in the
least overpowered by this idea merely because it is overpowering. On the
contrary, it was so large that they all carried it lightly, as we all
carry the load of the sky. Gazing at some detail like a bird or a cloud,
we can all ignore its awful blue background; we can neglect the sky; and
precisely because it bears down upon us with an annihilating force it is
felt as nothing. A thing of this kind can only be an impressing and a
rather subtle impression; but to me it is a very strong impression made
by pagan literature and religion. I repeat that in our special
sacramental sense there is, of course, the absence of the presence of
God. But there is in a very real sense the presence of the absence of
God. We feel it in the unfathomable sadness of pagan poetry; for I doubt
if there was ever in all the marvellous manhood of antiquity a man who
was happy as St. Francis was happy. We feel it in the legend of a Golden
Age and again in the vague implication that the gods themselves are
ultimately related to something else, even when that Unknown God has
faded into a Fate. Above all we feel it in those immortal moments when
the pagan literature seems to return to a more innocent antiquity and
speak with a more direct voice, so that no word is worthy of it except
our own monotheistic monosyllable. We cannot say anything but 'God' in a
sentence like that of Socrates bidding farewell to his judges: 'I go to
die and you remain to live; and God alone knows which of us goes the
better way.' We can use no other word even for the best moments of
Marcus Aurelius: 'Can they say dear city of Cecrops, and canst thou not
say dear city of God?' We can use no other word in that mighty line in
which Virgil spoke to all who suffer with the veritable cry of a
Christian before Christ: 'O you that have borne things more terrible, to
this also God shall give an end.'

In short, there is a feeling that there is something higher than the
gods; but because it is higher it is also further away. Not yet could
even Virgil have read the riddle and the paradox of that other divinity,
who is both higher and nearer. For them what was truly divine was very
distant, so distant that they dismissed it more and more from their
minds. It had less and less to do with the mere mythology of which I
shall write later. Yet even in this there was a sort of tacit admission
of its intangible purity, when we consider what most of the mythologies
like. As the Jews would not degrade it by images, so the Greeks did not
degrade it even by imaginations. When the gods were more and more
remembered only by pranks and profligacies, it was relatively a movement
of reverence. It was an act of piety to forget God. In other words,
there is something in the whole tone of the time suggesting that men had
accepted a lower level, and still were half conscious that it was a
lower level. It is hard to find words for these things; yet the one
really just word stands ready. These men were conscious of the Fall if
they were conscious of nothing else; and the same is true of an heathen
humanity. Those who have fallen may remember the fall, even when they
forget the height. Some such tantalising blank or break in memory is at
the back of all pagan sentiment. There is such a thing as the momentary
power to remember that we forget. And the most ignorant of humanity know
by the very look of earth that they have forgotten heaven. But it
remains true that even for these men there were moments, like the
memories of childhood, when they heard themselves talking with a simpler
language; there were moments when the Roman, like Virgil in the line
already quoted, cut his way with a sword-stroke of song out of the
tangle of the mythologies, the motley mob of gods and goddesses sank
suddenly out of sight and the Sky-Father was alone in the sky.

This latter example is very relevant to the next step in the process. A
white light as of a lost morning still lingers on the figure of Jupiter,
of Pan or of the elder Apollo; and it may well be, as already noted,
that each was once a divinity as solitary as Jehovah or Allah. They lost
this lonely universality by a process it is here very necessary to note;
a process of amalgamation very like what was afterwards called
syncretism. The whole pagan world set itself to build a Pantheon. They
admitted more and more gods, gods not only of the Greeks but of the
barbarians; gods not only of Europe but of Asia and Africa. The more the
merrier, though some of the Asian and African ones were not very merry.
They admitted them to equal thrones with their own, sometimes they
identified them with their own. They may have regarded it as an
enrichment of their religious life; but it meant the final loss of all
that we now call religion. It meant that ancient light of simplicity,
that had a single source like the sun, finally fades away in a dazzle of
conflicting Lights and colours. God is really sacrificed to the Gods; in
a very literal sense of the flippant phrase, they have been too many for

Polytheism, therefore, was really a sort of pool; in the sense of the
pagans having consented to the pooling of their pagan religions. And
this point is very important in many controversies ancient and modern.
It is regarded as a liberal and enlightened thing to say that the god of
the stranger may be as good as our own; and doubtless the pagans thought
themselves very liberal and enlightened when they agreed to add to the
gods of the city or the hearth some wild and fantastic Dionysus coming
down from the mountains or some shaggy and rustic Pan creeping out of
the woods. But exactly what it lost by these larger ideas is the largest
idea of all. It is the idea of the fatherhood that makes the whole world
one. And the converse is also true. Doubtless those more antiquated men
of antiquity who clung to their solitary statues and their single sacred
names were regarded as superstitious savages benighted and left behind.
But these superstitious savages were preserving something that is much
more like the cosmic power as conceived by philosophy, or even as
conceived by science. This paradox by which the rude reactionary was a
sort of prophetic progressive has one consequence very much to the
point. In a purely historical sense, and apart from any other
controversies in the same connection, it throws a light, a single and a
steady light, that shines from the beginning on a little and lonely
people. In this paradox, as in some riddle of religion of which the
answer was sealed up for centuries, lies the mission and the meaning of
the Jews.

It is true in this sense, humanly speaking, that the world owes God to
the Jews. It owes that truth to much that is blamed on the Jews,
possibly to much that is blameable in the Jews. We have already noted
the nomadic position of the Jews amid the other pastoral peoples upon
the fringe of the Babylonian Empire, and something of that strange
erratic course of theirs blazed across the dark territory of extreme
antiquity, as they passed from the seat of Abraham and the shepherd
princes into Egypt and doubled back into the Palestinian hills and held
them against the Philistines from Crete and fell into captivity in
Babylon; and yet again returned to their mountain city by the Zionist
policy of the Persian conquerors; and so continued that amazing romance
of restlessness of which we have not yet seen the end. But through all
their wanderings, and especially through all their early wanderings,
they did indeed carry the fate of the world in that wooden tabernacle,
that held perhaps a featureless symbol and certainly an invisible god.
We may say that one most essential feature was that it was featureless.
Much as we may prefer that creative liberty which the Christian culture
has declared and by which it has eclipsed even the arts of antiquity, we
must not underrate the determining importance at the time of the Hebrew
inhibition of images. It is a typical example of one of those
limitations that did in fact preserve and perpetuate enlargement, like a
wall built round a wide open space. The God who could not have a statue
remained a spirit. Nor would his statue in any case have had the
disarming dignity and grace of the Greek statues then or the Christian
statues afterwards. He was living in a land of monsters. We shall have
occasion to consider more fully what those monsters were, Moloch and
Dagon and Tanit the terrible goddess. If the deity of Israel had ever
had an image, he would have had a phallic image. By merely giving him a
body they would have brought in all the worst elements of mythology; all
the polygamy of polytheism; the vision of the harem in heaven. This
point about the refusal of art is the first example of the limitations
which are often adversely criticised, only because the critics
themselves are limited. But an even stronger case can be found in the
other criticism offered by the same critics. It is often said with a
sneer that the God of Israel was only a God of battles, 'a mere barbaric
Lord of Hosts' pitted in rivalry against other gods only as their
envious foe. Well it is for the world that he was a God of Battles. Well
it is for us that he was to all the rest only a rival and a foe. In the
ordinary way, it would have been only too easy for them to have achieved
the desolate disaster of conceiving him as a friend. It would have been
only too easy for them to have seen him stretching out his hands in love
and reconciliation, embracing Baal and kissing the painted face of
Astarte, feasting in fellowship with the gods; the last god to sell his
crown of stars for the Soma of the Indian pantheon or the nectar of
Olympus or the mead of Valhalla. It would have been easy enough for his
worshippers to follow the enlightened course of Syncretism and the
pooling of all the pagan traditions. It is obvious indeed that his
followers were always sliding down this easy slope; and it required the
almost demoniac energy of certain inspired demagogues, who testified to
the divine unity in words that are still like winds of inspiration and
ruin. The more we really understand of the ancient conditions that
contributed to the final culture of the Faith, the more we shall have a
real and even a realistic reverence for the greatness of the Prophets of
Israel. As it was, while the whole world melted into this mass of
confused mythology, this Deity who is called tribal and narrow,
precisely because he was what is called tribal and narrow, preserved the
primary religion of all mankind. He was tribal enough to be universal.
He was as narrow as the universe. In a word, there was a popular pagan
god called Jupiter-Ammon. There was never a god called Jehovah-Ammon.
There was never a god called Jehovah-Jupiter. If there had been, there
would certainly have been another called Jehovah-Moloch. Long before the
liberal and enlightened amalgamators had got so far afield as Jupiter,
the image of the Lord of Hosts would have been deformed out of all
suggestion of a monotheistic maker and ruler and would have become an
idol far worse than any savage fetish; for he might have been as
civilised as the gods of Tyre and Carthage. What that civilisation meant
we shall consider more fully in the chapter that follows; when we note
how the power of demons nearly destroyed Europe and even the heathen
health of the world. But the world's destiny would have been distorted
still more fatally if monotheism had failed in the Mosaic tradition. I
hope in a subsequent section to show that I am not without sympathy with
all that health in the heathen world that made its fairy-tales and its
fanciful romances of religion. But I hope also to show that these were
bound to fail in the long run; and the world would have been lost if it
had been unable to return to that great original simplicity of a single
authority in all things. That we do preserve something of that primary
simplicity that poets and philosophers can still indeed in some sense
say an Universal Prayer, that we live in a large and serene world under
a sky that stretches paternally over all the peoples of the earth, that
philosophy and philanthropy are truisms in a religion of reasonable men,
all that we do most truly owe, under heaven, to a secretive and restless
nomadic people; who bestowed on men the supreme and serene blessing of a
jealous God.

The unique possession was not available or accessible to the pagan
world, because it was also the possession of a jealous people. The Jews
were unpopular, partly because of this narrowness already noted in the
Roman world, partly perhaps because they had already fallen into that
habit of merely handling things for exchange instead of working to make
them with their hands. It was partly also because polytheism had become
a sort of jungle in which solitary monotheism could be lost; but it is
strange to realise how completely it really was lost. Apart from more
disputed matters, there were things in the tradition of Israel which
belong to all humanity now, and might have belonged to all humanity
then. They had one of the colossal corner-stones of the world: the Book
of Job. It obviously stands over against the Iliad and the Greek
tragedies; and even more than they it was an early meeting and parting
of poetry and philosophy in the mornings of the world. It is a solemn
and uplifting sight to see those two eternal fools, the optimist and the
pessimist, destroyed in the dawn of time. And the philosophy really
perfects the pagan tragic irony, precisely because it is more
monotheistic and therefore more mystical. Indeed the Book of Job
avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with
riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a
prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can
only say 'I do not understand,' it is true that he who knows can only
reply or repeat 'You do not understand.' And under that rebuke there is
always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would
be worth understanding. But this mighty monotheistic poem remained
unremarked by the whole world of antiquity, which was thronged with
polytheistic poetry. It is a sign of the way in which the Jews stood
apart and kept their tradition unshaken and unshared, that they should
have kept a thing like the Book of Job out of the whole intellectual
world of antiquity. It is as if the Egyptians had modestly concealed the
Great Pyramid. But there were other reasons for a cross-purpose and an
impasse, characteristic of the whole of the end of paganism. After all,
the tradition of Israel had only got hold of one-half of the truth, even
if we use the popular paradox and call it the bigger half. I shall try
to sketch in the next chapter that love of locality and personality that
ran through mythology; here it need only be said that there was a truth
in it that could not be let out though it were a lighter and less
essential truth. The sorrow of Job had to be joined with the sorrow of
Hector; and while the former was the sorrow of the universe the latter
was the sorrow of the city; for Hector could only stand pointing to
heaven as the pillar of holy Troy. When God speaks out of the whirlwind
he may well speak in the wilderness. But the monotheism of the nomad was
not enough for all that varied civilisation of fields and fences and
walled cities and temples and towns; and the turn of these things also
was to come, when the two could be combined in a more definite and
domestic religion. Here and there in all that pagan crowd could be found
a philosopher whose thought ran of pure theism; but he never had, or
supposed that he had, the power to change the customs of the whole
populace. Nor is it easy even in such philosophies to find a true
definition of this deep business of the relation of polytheism and
theism. Perhaps the nearest we can come to striking the note, or giving
the thing a name, is in something far away from all that civilisation
and more remote from Rome than the isolation of Israel. It is in a
saying I once heard from some Hindu tradition; that gods as well as men
are only the dreams of Brahma; and will perish when Brahma wakes. There
is indeed in such an image something of the soul of Asia which is less
sane than the soul of Christendom. We should call it despair, even if
they would call it peace. This note of nihilism can be considered later
in a fuller comparison between Asia and Europe. It is enough to say here
that there is more of disillusion in that idea of a divine awakening
than is implied for us in the passage from mythology to religion. But
the symbol is very subtle and exact in one respect; that it does suggest
the disproportion and even disruption between the very ideas of
mythology and religion, the chasm between the two categories. It is
really the collapse of comparative religion that there is no comparison
between God and the gods. There is no more comparison than there is
between a man and the men who walked about in his dreams. Under the next
heading some attempt will be made to indicate the twilight of that dream
in which the gods walk about like men. But if anyone fancies the
contrast of monotheism and polytheism is only a matter of some people
having one god and others a few more, for him it will be far nearer the
truth to plunge into the elephantine extravagance of Brahmin cosmology;
that he may feel a shudder going through the veil of things, the
many-handed creators, and the throned and haloed animals and all the
network of entangled stars and rulers of the night, as the eyes of
Brahma open like dawn upon the death of all.

* * *



What are here called the Gods might almost alternatively be called the
day-dreams. To compare them to dreams is not to deny that dreams can
come true. To compare them to travellers' tales is not to deny that they
may be true tales, or at least truthful tales. In truth they are the
sort of tales the traveller tells to himself. All this mythological
business belongs to the poetical part of men. It seems strangely
forgotten nowadays that a myth is a work of imagination and therefore a
work of art. It needs a poet to make it. It needs a poet to criticise
it. There are more poets than non-poets in the world, as is proved by
the popular origin of such legends. But for some reason I have never
heard explained, it is only the minority of unpoetical people who are
allowed to write critical studies of these popular poems. We do not
submit a sonnet to a mathematician or a song to a calculating boy; but
we do indulge the equally fantastic idea that folk-lore can be treated
as a science. Unless these things are appreciated artistically they are
not appreciated at all. When the professor is told by the Polynesian
that once there was nothing except a great feathered serpent, unless the
learned man feels a thrill and a half temptation to wish it were true,
he is no judge of such things at all. When he is assured, on the best
Red Indian authority, that a primitive hero carried the sun and moon and
stars in a box, unless he clasps his hands and almost kicks his legs as
a child would at such a charming fancy, he knows nothing about the
matter. This test is not nonsensical; primitive children and barbaric
children do laugh and kick like other children; and we must have a
certain simplicity to repicture the childhood of the world. When
Hiawatha was told by his nurse that a warrior threw his grandmother up
to the moon, he laughed like any English child told by his nurse that a
cow jumped over the moon. The child sees the joke as well as most men,
and better than some scientific men. But the ultimate test even of the
fantastic is the appropriateness of the inappropriate. And the test must
appear merely arbitrary because it is merely artistic. If any student
tells me that the infant Hiawatha only laughed out of respect for tribal
custom of sacrificing the aged to economical housekeeping, I say he did
not. If any scholar tells me that the cow jumped over the moon only
because a heifer was sacrificed to Diana, I answer that it did not. It
happened because it is obviously the right thing for a cow to jump over
the moon. Mythology is a lost art, one of the few arts that really are
lost; but it is an art. The horned moon and the horned mooncalf make a
harmonious and almost a quiet pattern. And throwing your grandmother
into the sky is not good behaviour; but it is perfectly good taste.

Thus scientists seldom understand, as artists understand, that one
branch of the beautiful is the ugly. They seldom allow for the
legitimate liberty of the grotesque. And they will dismiss a savage myth
as merely coarse and clumsy and an evidence of degradation, because it
has not all the beauty of the herald Mercury new lighted on a
heaven-kissing hill; when it really has the beauty of the Mock Turtle or
the Mad Hatter. It is the supreme proof of a man being prosaic that he
always insists on poetry being poetical. Sometimes the humour is in the
very subject as well as the style of the fable. The Australian
aborigines, regarded as the rudest of savages, have a story about a
giant frog who had swallowed the sea and all the waters of the world;
and who was only forced to spill them by being made to laugh. All the
animals with all their antics passed before him and, like Queen
Victoria, he was not amused. He collapsed at last before an eel who
stood delicately balanced on the tip of its tail, doubtless with a
rather desperate dignity. Any amount of fine fantastic literature might
be made out of that fable. There is philosophy in that vision of the dry
world before the beatific Deluge of laughter. There is imagination in
the mountainous monster erupting like an aqueous volcano; there is
plenty of fun in the thought of his goggling visage as the pelican or
the penguin passed by. Anyhow the frog laughed; but the folk-lore
student remains grave.

Moreover, even where the fables are inferior as art, they cannot be
properly judged by science; still less properly judged as science. Some
myths are very crude and queer like the early drawings of children; but
the child is trying to draw. It is none the less an error to treat his
drawing as if it were a diagram, or intended to be a diagram. The
student cannot make a scientific statement about the savage, because the
savage is not making a scientific statement about the world. He is
saying something quite different; what might be called the gossip of the
gods. We may say, if we like, that it is believed before there is time
to examine it. It would be truer to say it is accepted before there is
time to believe it.

I confess I doubt the whole theory of the dissemination of myths or (as
it commonly is) of one myth. It is true that something in our nature and
conditions makes many stories similar; but each of them may be original.
One man does not borrow the story from the other man, though he may tell
it from the same motive as the other man. It would be easy to apply the
whole argument about legend to literature; and turn it into a vulgar
monomania of plagiarism. I would undertake to trace a notion like that
of the Golden Bough through individual modern novels as easily as
through communal and antiquated myths. I would undertake to find
something like a bunch of flowers figuring again and again from the
fatal bouquet of Becky Sharpe to the spray of roses sent by the Princess
of Ruritania. But though these flowers may spring from the same soil, it
is not the same faded flower that is flung from hand to hand. Those
flowers are always fresh.

The true origin of all the myths has been discovered much too often.
There are too many keys to mythology, as there are too many cryptograms
in Shakespeare. Everything is phallic; everything is totemistic;
everything is seed-time and harvest; everything is ghosts and
grave-offerings; everything is the golden bough of sacrifice; everything
is the sun and moon; everything is everything. Every folk-lore student
who knew a little more than his own monomania, every man of wider
reading and critical culture like Andrew Lang, has practically confessed
that the bewilderment of these things left his brain spinning. Yet the
whole trouble comes from a man trying to look at these stories from the
outside, as if they were scientific objects. He has only to look at them
from the inside, and ask himself how he would begin a story. A story may
start with anything and go anywhere. It may start with a bird without
the bird being a totem; it may start with the sun without being a solar
myth. It is said there are only ten plots in the world; and there will
certainly be common and recurrent elements. Set ten thousand children
talking at once, and telling tarradiddles about what they did in the
wood, and it will not be hard to find parallels suggesting sun-worship
or animal worship. Some of the stories may be pretty and some silly and
some perhaps dirty; but they can only be judged as stories. In the
modern dialect, they can only be judged aesthetically. It is strange
that aesthetics, or mere feeling, which is now allowed to usurp where it
has no rights at all, to wreck reason with pragmatism and morals with
anarchy, is apparently not allowed to give a purely aesthetic judgement
on what is obviously a purely aesthetic question. We may be fanciful
about everything except fairy-tales.

Now the first fact is that the most simple people have the most subtle
ideas. Everybody ought to know that, for everybody has been a child.
Ignorant as a child is, he knows more than he can say and feels not only
atmospheres but fine shades. And in this matter there are several fine
shades. Nobody understands it who has not had what can only be called
the ache of the artist to find some sense and some story in the
beautiful things he sees; his hunger for secrets and his anger at any
tower or tree escaping with its tale untold. He feels that nothing is
perfect unless it is personal. Without that the blind unconscious beauty
of the world stands in its garden like a headless statue. One need only
be a very minor poet to have wrestled with the tower or the tree until
it spoke like a titan or a dryad. It is often said that pagan mythology
was a personification of the powers of nature. The phrase is true in a
sense, but it is very unsatisfactory; because it implies that the forces
are abstractions and the personification is artificial. Myths are not
allegories. Natural powers are not in this case abstractions. It is not
as if there were a God of Gravitation. There may be a genius of the
waterfall; but not of mere falling, even less than of mere water. The
impersonation is not of something impersonal. The point is that the
personality perfects the water with significance. Father Christmas is
not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called
snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man. He is
something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the
evergreens, so that snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold. The
test therefore is purely imaginative. But imaginative does not mean
imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call
subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel,
consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths;
that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other
words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there;
something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that
the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort
of incantation that can call it up.

Now we do not comprehend this process in ourselves, far less in our most
remote fellow-creatures And the danger of these things being classified
is that they may seem to be comprehended. A really fine work of
folklore, like The Golden Bough, will leave too many readers with the
idea, for instance, that this or that story of a giant's or wizard's
heart in a casket or a cave only 'means' some stupid and static
superstition called 'the external soul.' But we do not know what these
things mean, simply because we do not know what we ourselves mean when
we are moved by them. Suppose somebody in a story says 'Pluck this
flower and a princess will die in a castle beyond the sea,' we do not
know why something stirs in the subconsciousness, or why what is
impossible seems almost inevitable. Suppose we read 'And in the hour
when the king extinguished the candle his ships were wrecked far away on
the coast of Hebrides.' We do not know why the imagination has accepted
that image before the reason can reject it; or why such correspondences
seem really to correspond to something in the soul. Very deep things in
our nature, some dim sense of the dependence of great things upon small,
some dark suggestion that the things nearest to us stretch far beyond
our power, some sacramental feeling of the magic in material substances,
and many more emotions past fading out, are in an idea like that of the
external soul. The power even in the myths of savages is like the power
in the metaphors of poets. The soul of such a metaphor is often very
emphatically an external soul. The best critics have remarked that in
the best poets the simile is often a picture that seems quite separate
from the text. It is as irrelevant as the remote castle to the flower or
the Hebridean coast to the candle. Shelley compares the skylark to a
young woman on a turret, to a rose embedded in thick foliage, to a
series of things that seem to be about as unlike a skylark in the sky as
anything we can imagine. I suppose the most potent piece of pure magic
in English literature is the much-quoted passage in Keats's Nightingale
about the casements opening on the perilous foam. And nobody notices
that the image seems to come from nowhere; that it appears abruptly
after some almost equally irrelevant remarks about Ruth; and that it has
nothing in the world to do with the subject of the poem. If there is one
place in the world where nobody could reasonably expect to find a
nightingale, it is on a window-sill at the seaside. But it is only in
the same sense that nobody would expect to find a giant's heart in a
casket under the sea. Now, it would be very dangerous to classify the
metaphors of the poets. When Shelley says that the cloud will rise 'like
a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,' it would be quite
possible to call the first a case of the coarse primitive birth-myth and
the second a survival of the ghost-worship which became
ancestor-worship. But it is the wrong way of dealing with a cloud; and
is liable to leave the learned in the condition of Polonius, only too
ready to think it like a weasel, or very like a whale.

Two facts follow from this psychology of day-dreams, which must be kept
in mind throughout their development in mythologies and even religions.
First, these imaginative impressions are often strictly local. So far
from being abstractions turned into allegories, they are often images
almost concentrated into idols. The poet feels the mystery of a
particular forest; not of the science of afforestation or the department
of woods and forests. He worships the peak of a particular mountain, not
the abstract idea of altitude. So we find the god is not merely water
but often one special river; he may be the sea because the sea is single
like a stream; the river that runs round the world. Ultimately doubtless
many deities are enlarged into elements; but they are something more
than omnipresent. Apollo does not merely dwell wherever the sun shines;
his home is on the rock of Delphi. Diana is great enough to be in three
places at once, earth and heaven and hell, but greater is Diana of the
Ephesians. This localised feeling has its lowest form in the mere fetish
or talisman, such as millionaires put on their motor-cars. But it can
also harden into something like a high and serious religion, where it is
connected with high and serious duties; into the gods of the city or
even the gods of the hearth.

The second consequence is this; that in these pagan cults there is every
shade of sincerity--and insincerity. In what sense exactly did an
Athenian really think he had to sacrifice to Pallas Athena? What scholar
is really certain of the answer? In what sense did Dr. Johnson really
think that he had to touch all the posts in the street or that he had to
collect orange-peel? In what sense does a child really think that he
ought to step on every alternate paving-stone? Two things are at least
fairly clear. First, in simpler and less self-conscious times these
forms could become more solid without really becoming more serious.
Day-dreams could be acted in broad daylight, with more liberty of
artistic expression; but still perhaps with something of the light step
of the somnambulist. Wrap Dr. Johnson in an antique mantle, crown him
(by his kind permission) with a garland, and he will move in state under
those ancient skies of morning; touching a series of sacred posts carved
with the heads of the strange terminal gods, that stand at the limits of
the land and of the life of man. Make the child free of the marbles and
mosaics of some classic temples to play on a whole floor inlaid with
squares of black and white; and he will willingly make this fulfilment
of his idle and drifting daydream the clear field for a grave and
graceful dance. But the posts and the paving-stones are little more and
little less real than they are under modern limits. They are not really
much more serious for being taken seriously. They have the sort of
sincerity that they always had; the sincerity of art as a symbol that
expresses very real spiritualities under the surface of life. But they
are only sincere in the same sense as art; not sincere in the same sense
as morality. The eccentric's collection of orange-peel may turn to
oranges in a Mediterranean festival or to golden apples in a
Mediterranean myth. But they are never on the same plane with the
difference between giving the orange to a blind beggar and carefully
placing the orange-peel so that the beggar may fall and break his leg.
Between these two things there is a difference of kind and not of
degree. The child does not think it wrong to step on the paving-stone as
he thinks it wrong to step on the dog's tail. And it is very certain
that whatever jest or sentiment or fancy first set Johnson touching the
wooden posts, he never touched wood with any of the feeling with which
he stretched out his hands to the timber of that terrible tree, which
was the death of God and the life of man.

As already noted, this does not mean that there was no reality or even
no religious sentiment in such a mood. As a matter of fact the Catholic
Church has taken over with uproarious success the whole of this popular
business of giving people local legends and lighter ceremonial
movements. In so far as all this sort of paganism was innocent and in
touch with nature, there is no reason why it should not be patronised by
patron saints as much as by pagan gods. And in any case there are
degrees of seriousness in the most natural make-believe. There is all
the difference between fancying there are fairies in the wood, which
often only means fancying a certain wood as fit for fairies, and really
frightening ourselves until we walk a mile rather than pass a house we
have told ourselves is haunted. Behind all these things is the fact that
beauty and terror are very real things and related to a real spiritual
world; and to touch them at all, even in doubt or fancy, is to stir the
deep things of the soul. We all understand that and the pagans
understood it. The point is that paganism did not really stir the soul
except with these doubts and fancies, with the consequence that we
to-day can have little beyond doubts and fancies about paganism. All the
best critics agree that all the greatest poets, in pagan Hellas for
example, had an attitude towards their gods which is quite queer and
puzzling to men in the Christian era. There seems to be an admitted
conflict between the god and the man; but everybody seems to be doubtful
about which is the hero and which is the villain. This doubt does not
merely apply to a doubter like Euripides in the Bacchae; it applies to a
moderate conservative like Sophocles in the Antigone; or even to a
regular Tory and reactionary like Aristophanes in the Frogs. Sometimes
it would seem that the Greeks believed above all things in reverence,
only they had nobody to revere. But the point of the puzzle is this,
that all this vagueness and variation arise from the fact that the whole
thing began in fancy and in dreaming; and that there are no rules of
architecture for a castle in the clouds.

This is the mighty and branching tree called mythology which ramifies
round the whole world, whose remote branches under separate skies bear
like coloured birds the costly idols of Asia and the half-baked fetishes
of Africa and the fairy kings and princesses of the folk-tales of the
forest, and buried amid vines and olives the Lares of the Latins, and
carried on the clouds of Olympus the buoyant supremacy of the gods of
Greece. These are the myths: and he who has no sympathy with myths has
no sympathy with men. But he who has most sympathy with myths will most
fully realise that they are not and never were a religion, in the sense
that Christianity or even Islam is a religion. They satisfy some of the
needs satisfied by a religion; and notably the need for doing certain
things at certain dates; the need of the twin ideas of festivity and
formality. But though they provide a man with a calendar they do not
provide him with a creed. A man did not stand up and say 'I believe in
Jupiter and Juno and Neptune,' etc., as he stands up and says 'I believe
in God the Father Almighty,' and the rest of the Apostles Creed. Many
believed in some and not in others, or more in some and less in others,
or only in a very vague poetical sense in any. There was no moment when
they were all collected into an orthodox order which men would fight and
be tortured to keep intact. Still less did anybody ever say in that
fashion: 'I believe in Odin and Thor and Freya,' for outside Olympus
even the Olympian order grows cloudy and chaotic. It seems clear to me
that Thor was not a god at all but a hero. Nothing resembling a religion
would picture anybody resembling a god as groping like a pigmy in a
great cavern, that turned out to be the glove of a giant. That is the
glorious ignorance called adventure Thor may have been a great
adventurer; but to call him a god is like trying to compare Jehovah with
Jack and the Beanstalk. Odin seems to have been a real barbarian chief,
possibly of the Dark Ages after Christianity. Polytheism fades away at
its fringes into fairy-tales or barbaric memories; it is not a thing
like monotheism as held by serious monotheists. Again it does satisfy
the need to cry out on some uplifted name or some noble memory in
moments that are themselves noble and uplifted; such as the birth of a
child or the saving of a city. But the name was so used by many to whom
it was only a name. Finally it did satisfy, or rather it partially
satisfied, a thing very deep in humanity indeed; the idea of
surrendering something as the portion of the unknown powers; of pouring
of wine upon the ground, of throwing a ring into the sea; in a word, of
sacrifice. It is the wise and worthy idea of not taking our advantage to
the full; of putting something in the other balance to ballast our
dubious pride, of paying tithes to nature for our land. This deep truth
of the danger of insolence, or being too big for our boots, runs through
all the great Greek tragedies and makes them great. But it runs side by
side with an almost cryptic agnosticism about the real nature of the
gods to be propitiated. Where that gesture of surrender is most
magnificent, as among the great Greeks, there is really much more idea
that the man will be the better for losing the ox than that the god will
be the better for getting it. It is said that in its grosser forms there
are often actions grotesquely suggestive of the god really eating the
sacrifice. But this fact is falsified by the error that I put first in
this note on mythology. It is misunderstanding the psychology of
day-dreams. A child pretending there is a goblin in a hollow tree will
do a crude and material thing, like leaving a piece of cake for him. A
poet might do a more dignified and elegant thing, like bringing to the
god fruits as well as flowers. But the degree of seriousness in both
acts may be the same or it may vary in almost any degree. The crude
fancy is no more a creed than the ideal fancy is a creed. Certainly the
pagan does not disbelieve like an atheist, any more than he believes
like a Christian. He feels the presence of powers about which he guesses
and invents. St. Paul said that the Greeks had one altar to an unknown
god. But in truth all their gods were unknown gods. And the real break
in history did come when St. Paul declared to them whom they had
ignorantly worshipped.

The substance of all such paganism may be summarised thus. It is an
attempt to reach the divine reality through the imagination alone; in
its own field reason does not restrain it at all. It is vital to view of
all history that reason is something separate from religion even in the
most rational of these civilisations. It is only as an afterthought,
when such cults are decadent or on the defensive, that a few
Neo-Platonists or a few Brahmins are found trying to rationalise them,
and even then only by trying to allegorise them. But in reality the
rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not mingle till
they meet in the sea of Christendom. Simple secularists still talk as if
the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion.
The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever
tried to combine reason and religion. There had never before been any
such union of the priests and the philosophers. Mythology, then, sought
god through the imagination; or sought truth by means of beauty, in the
sense in which beauty includes much of the most grotesque ugliness. But
the imagination has its own laws and therefore its own triumphs, which
neither logicians nor men of science can understand It remained true to
that imaginative instinct through a thousand extravagances, through
every crude cosmic pantomime of a pig eating the moon or the world being
cut out of a cow, through all the dizzy convolutions and mystic
malformations of Asiatic art, through all the stark and staring rigidity
of Egyptian and Assyrian portraiture, through every kind of cracked
mirror of mad art that seemed to deform the world and displace the sky,
it remained true to something about which there can be no argument;
something that makes it possible for some artist of some school to stand
suddenly still before that particular deformity and say, 'My dream has
come true.' Therefore do we all in fact feel that pagan or primitive
myths are infinitely suggestive, so long as we are wise enough not to
inquire what they suggest. Therefore we all feel what is meant by
Prometheus stealing fire from heaven, until some prig of a pessimist or
progressive person explains what it means. Therefore we all know the
meaning of Jack and the Beanstalk, until we are told. In this sense it
is true that it is the ignorant who accept myths, but only because it is
the ignorant who appreciate poems. Imagination has its own laws and
triumphs; and a tremendous power began to clothe its images, whether
images in the mind or in the mud, whether in the bamboo of the South Sea
Islands or the marble of the mountains of Hellas. But there was always a
trouble in the triumph, which in these pages I have tried to analyse in
vain; but perhaps I might in conclusion state it thus.

The crux and crisis is that man found it natural to worship; even
natural to worship unnatural things. The posture of the idol might be
stiff and strange; but the gesture of the worshipper was generous and
beautiful. He not only felt freer when he bent; he actually felt taller
when he bowed. Henceforth anything that took away the gesture of worship
would stunt and even maim him for ever. Henceforth being merely secular
would be a servitude and an inhibition. If man cannot pray he is gagged;
if he cannot kneel he is in irons. We therefore feel throughout the
whole of paganism a curious double feeling of trust and distrust. When
the man makes the gesture of salutation and of sacrifice, when he pours
out the libation or lifts up the sword, he knows he is doing a worthy
and a virile thing. He knows he is doing one of the things for which a
man was made. His imaginative experiment is therefore justified. But
precisely because it began with imagination, there is to the end
something of mockery in it, and especially in the object of it. This
mockery, in the more in tense moments of the intellect, becomes the
almost intolerable irony of Greek tragedy. There seems a disproportion
between the priest and the altar or between the altar and the god. The
priest seems more solemn and almost more sacred than the god. All the
order of the temple is solid and sane and satisfactory to certain parts
of our nature; except the very centre of it, which seems strangely
mutable and dubious, like a dancing flame. It is the first thought round
which the whole has been built; and the first thought is still a fancy
and almost a frivolity. In that strange place of meeting, the man seems
more statuesque than the statue. He himself can stand for ever in the
noble and natural attitude of the statue of the Praying Boy. But
whatever name be written on the pedestal, whether Zeus or Ammon or
Apollo, the god whom he worships is Proteus.

The Praying Boy may be said to express a need rather than to satisfy a
need. It is by a normal and necessary action that his hands are lifted;
but it is no less a parable that his hands are empty. About the nature
of that need there will be more to say; but at this point it may be said
that perhaps after all this true instinct, that player and sacrifice are
a liberty and an enlargement, refers back to that vast and
half-forgotten conception of universal fatherhood, which we have already
seen everywhere fading from the morning sky. This is true; and yet it is
not all the truth. There remains an indestructible instinct, in the poet
as represented by the pagan, that he is not entirely wrong in localising
his God. It is something in the soul of poetry if not of piety. And the
greatest of poets, when he defined the poet, did not say that he gave us
the universe or the absolute or the infinite; but, in his own larger
language, a local habitation and a name. No poet is merely a pantheist;
those who are counted most pantheistic, like Shelley, start with some
local and particular image as the pagans did. After all, Shelley wrote
of the skylark because it was a skylark. You could not issue an imperial
or international translation of it for use in South America, in which it
was changed to an ostrich. So the mythological imagination moves as it
were in circles, hovering either to find a place or to return to it. In
a word, mythology is a search; it is something that combines a recurrent
desire with a recurrent doubt, mixing a most hungry sincerity in the
idea of seeking for a place with a most dark and deep and mysterious
levity about all the places found. So far could the lonely imagination
lead, and we must turn later to the lonely reason. Nowhere along this
road did the two ever travel together.

That is where all these things differed from religion or the reality in
which these different dimensions met in a sort of solid. They differed
from the reality not in what they looked like but in what they were. A
picture may look like a landscape; it may look in every detail exactly
like a landscape. The only detail in which it differs is that it is not
a landscape. The difference is only that which divides a portrait of
Queen Elizabeth from Queen Elizabeth. Only in this mythical and mystical
world the portrait could exist before the person; and the portrait was
therefore more vague and doubtful. But anybody who has felt and fed on
the atmosphere of these myths will know what I mean, when I say that in
one sense they did not really profess to be realities. The pagans had
dreams about realities; and they would have been the first to admit, in
their own words, that some came through the gate of ivory and others
through the gate of horn. The dreams do indeed tend to be very vivid
dreams when they touch on those tender or tragic things, which can
really make a sleeper awaken with the sense that his heart has been
broken in his sleep. They tend continually to hover over certain
passionate themes of meeting and parting, of a life that ends in death
or a death that is the beginning of life. Demeter wanders over a
stricken world looking for a stolen child; Isis stretches out her arms
over the earth in vain to gather the limbs of Osiris; and there is
lamentation upon the hills for Atys and through the woods for Adonis.
There mingles with all such mourning the mystical and profound sense
that death can be a deliverer and an appeasement; that such death gives
us a divine blood for a renovating river and that all good is found in
gathering the broken body of the god. We may truly call these
foreshadowing; so long as we remember that foreshadowings are shadows.
And the metaphor of a shadow happens to hit very exactly the truth that
is very vital here. For a shadow is a shape; a thing which reproduces
shape but not texture. These things were something like the real thing;
and to say that they were like is to say that they were different.
Saying something is like a dog is another way of saying it is not a dog;
and it is in this sense of identity that a myth is not a man. Nobody
really thought of Isis as a human being, nobody really thought of
Demeter as a historical character, nobody thought of Adonis as the
founder of a Church. There was no idea that any one of them had changed
the world; but rather that their recurrent death and life bore the sad
and beautiful burden of the changelessness of the world. Not one of them
was a revolution, save in the sense of the revolution of the sun and
moon. Their whole meaning is missed if we do not see that they mean the
shadows that we are and the shadows that we pursue. In certain
sacrificial and communal aspects they naturally suggest what sort of a
god might satisfy them; but they do not profess to be satisfied. Anyone
who says they do is a bad judge of poetry.

Those who talk about Pagan Christs have less sympathy with Paganism than
with Christianity. Those who call these cults 'religions,' and 'compare'
them with the certitude and challenge of the Church have much less
appreciation than we have of what made heathenism human, or of why
classic literature is still something that hangs in the air like a song.
It is no very human tenderness for the hungry to prove that hunger is
the same as food. It is no very genial understanding of youth to argue
that hope destroys the need for happiness. And it is utterly unreal to
argue that these images in the mind, admired entirely in the abstract,
were even in the same world with a living man and a living polity that
were worshipped because they were concrete. We might as well say that a
boy playing at robbers is the same as a man in his first day in the
trenches; or that boy's first fancies about 'the not impossible she' are
the same as the sacrament of marriage. They are fundamentally different
exactly where they are superficially similar; we might almost say they
are not the same even when they are the same. They are only different
because one is real and the other is not. I do not mean merely that I
myself believe that one is true and the other is not. I mean that one
was never meant to be true in the same sense as the other. The sense in
which it was meant to be true I have tried to suggest vaguely here, but
it is undoubtedly very subtle and almost indescribable. It is so subtle
that the students who profess to put it up as a rival to our religion
miss the whole meaning and purport of their own study. We know better
than the scholars, even those of us who are no scholars, what was in
that hollow cry that went forth over the dead Adonis and why the Great
Mother had a daughter wedded to death. We have entered more deeply than
they into the Eleusinian Mysteries and have passed a higher grade, where
gate within gate guarded the wisdom of Orpheus. We know the meaning of
all the myths. We know the last secret revealed to the perfect initiate.
And it is not the voice of a priest or a prophet saying 'These things
are.' It is the voice of a dreamer and an idealist crying, 'Why cannot
these things be?'

* * *



I have dwelt at some little length on this imaginative sort of paganism,
which has crowded the world with temples and is everywhere the parent of
popular festivity. For the central history of civilisation, as I see it,
consists of two further stages before the final stage of Christendom.
The first was the struggle between this paganism and something less
worthy than itself, and the second the process by which it grew in
itself less worthy. In this very varied and often very vague polytheism
there was a weakness of original sin. Pagan gods were depicted as
tossing men like dice; and indeed they are loaded dice. About sex
especially men are born unbalanced; we might almost say men are born
mad. They scarcely reach sanity till they reach sanctity. This
disproportion dragged down the winged fancies; and filled the end of
paganism with a mere filth and litter of spawning gods. But the first
point to realise is that this sort of paganism had an early collision
with another sort of paganism; and that the issue of that essentially
spiritual struggle really determined the history of the world. In order
to understand it we must pass to a review of the other kind of paganism.
It can be considered much more briefly; indeed there is a very real
sense in which the less that is said about it the better. If we have
called the first sort of mythology the day-dream, we might very well
call the second sort of mythology the nightmare.

Superstition recurs in all ages, and especially in rationalistic ages. I
remember defending the religious tradition against a whole luncheon
table of distinguished agnostics; and before the end of our conversation
every one of them had procured from his pocket, or exhibited on his
watch-chain, some charm or talisman from which he admitted that he was
never separated. I was the only person present who had neglected to
provide himself with a fetish. Superstition recurs in a rationalist age
because it rests on something which, if not identical with rationalism,
is not unconnected with scepticism. It is at least very closely
connected with agnosticism. It rests on something that is really a very
human and intelligible sentiment, like the local invocations of the
numen in popular paganism. But it is an agnostic sentiment, for it rests
on two feelings: first that we do not really know the laws of the
universe; and second that they may be very different to all we call
reason. Such men realise the real truth that enormous things do often
turn upon tiny things. When a whisper comes, from tradition or what not,
that one particular tiny thing is the key or clue, something deep and
not altogether senseless in human nature tells them that it is not
unlikely. This feeling exists in both the forms of paganism here under
consideration. But when we come to the second form of it, we find it
transformed and filled with another and more terrible spirit.

In dealing with the lighter thing called mythology, I have said little
about the most disputable aspect of it; the extent to which such
invocation of the spirits of the sea or the elements can indeed call
spirits from the vasty deep; or rather, (as the Shakespearean scoffer
put it) whether the spirits come when they are called. I believe that I
am right in thinking that this problem, practical as it sounds, did not
play a dominant part in the poetical business of mythology. But I think
it even more obvious, on the evidence, that things of that sort have
sometimes appeared, even if they were only appearances. But when we come
to the world of superstition, in a more subtle sense, there is a shade
of difference; a deepening and a darkening shade. Doubtless most popular
superstition is as frivolous as any popular mythology. Men do not
believe as a dogma that God would throw a thunderbolt at them for
walking under a ladder; more often they amuse themselves with the not
very laborious exercise of walking round it. There is no more in it than
what I have already adumbrated; a sort of airy agnosticism about the
possibilities of so strange a world. But there is another sort of
superstition that does definitely look for results; what might be called
a realistic superstition. And with that the question of whether spirits
do answer or do appear becomes much more serious. As I have said, it
seems to me pretty certain that they sometimes do; but about that there
is a distinction that has been the beginning of much evil in the world.
Whether it be because the Fall has really brought men nearer to less
desirable neighbours in the spiritual world, or whether it is merely
that the mood of men eager or greedy finds it easier to imagine evil, I
believe that the black magic of witchcraft has been much more practical
and much less poetical than the white magic of mythology. I fancy the
garden of the witch has been kept much more carefully than the woodland
of the nymph. I fancy the evil field has even been more fruitful than
the good. To start with, some impulse, perhaps a sort of desperate
impulse, drove men to the darker powers when dealing with practical
problems. There was a sort of secret and perverse feeling that the
darker powers would really do things; that they had no nonsense about
them. And indeed that popular phase exactly expresses the point. The
gods of mere mythology had a great deal of nonsense about them. They had
a great deal of good nonsense about them; in the happy and hilarious
sense in which we talk of the nonsense of Jabberwocky or the Land where
Jumblies live. But the man consulting a demon felt as many a man has
felt in consulting a detective, especially a private detective; that it
was dirty work but the work would really be done. A man did not exactly
go into the wood to meet a nymph; he rather went with the hope of
meeting a nymph. It was an adventure rather than an assignation. But the
devil really kept his appointments and even in one sense kept his
promises; even if a man sometimes wished afterwards, like Macbeth, that
he had broken them.

In the accounts given us of many rude or savage races we gather that the
cult of demons often came after the cult of deities, and even after the
cult of one single and supreme deity. It may be suspected that in almost
all such places the higher deity is felt to be too far off for appeal in
certain petty matters, and men invoke the spirits because they are in a
more literal sense familiar spirits. But with the idea of employing the
demons who get things done, a new idea appears more worthy of the
demons. It may indeed be truly described as the idea of being worthy of
the demons; of making oneself fit for their fastidious and exacting
society. Superstition of the lighter sort toys with the idea that some
trifle, some small gesture such as throwing the salt, may touch the
hidden spring that works the mysterious machinery of the world. And
there is after all something in the idea of such an Open Sesame. But
with the appeal to lower spirits comes the horrible notion that the
gesture must not only be very small but very low; that it must be a
monkey trick of an utterly ugly and unworthy sort. Sooner or later a man
deliberately sets himself to do the most disgusting thing he can think
of. It is felt that the extreme of evil will extort a sort of attention
or answer from the evil powers under the surface of the world. This is
the meaning of most of the cannibalism in the world. For most
cannibalism is not a primitive or even a bestial habit. It is artificial
and even artistic, a sort of art for art's sake. Men do not do it
because they do not think it horrible; but, on the contrary, because
they do think it horrible. They wish, in the most literal sense, to sup
on horrors. That is why it is often found that rude races like the
Australian natives are not cannibals; while much more refined and
intelligent races, like the New Zealand Maories, occasionally are. They
are refined and intelligent enough to indulge sometimes in a
self-conscious diabolism. But if we could understand their minds, or
even really understand their language, we should probably find that they
were not acting as ignorant, that is as innocent cannibals. They are not
doing it because they do not think it wrong, but precisely because they
do think it wrong. They are acting like a Parisian decadent at a Black
Mass. But the Black Mass has to hide underground from the presence of
the real Mass. In other words, the demons have really been in hiding
since the coming of Christ on earth. The cannibalism of the higher
barbarians is in hiding from the civilisation of the white man. But
before Christendom, and especially outside Europe, this was not always
so. In the ancient world the demons often wandered abroad like dragons.
They could be positively and publicly enthroned as gods. Their enormous
images could be set up in public temples in the centre of populous
cities. And all over the world the traces can be found of this striking
and solid fact, so curiously overlooked by the moderns who speak of all
such evil as primitive and early in evolution, that as a matter of fact
some of the very highest civilisations of the world were the very places
where the horns of Satan were exalted, not only to the stars but in the
face of the sun. Take for example the Aztecs and American Indians of the
ancient empires of Mexico and Peru. They were at least as elaborate as
Egypt or China and only less lively than that central civilisation which
is our own. But those who criticise that central civilisation (which is
always their own civilisation) have a curious habit of not merely doing
their legitimate duty in condemning its crimes, but of going out of
their way to idealise its victims. They always assume that before the
advent of Europe there was nothing anywhere but Eden. And Swinburne, in
that spirited chorus of the nations in 'Songs before Sunrise,' used an
expression about Spain in her South American conquests which always
struck me as very strange. He said something about 'her sins and sons
through sinless lands dispersed,' and how they 'made accursed the name
of man and thrice accursed the name of God.' It may be reasonable enough
that he should say the Spaniards were sinful, but why in the world
should he say that the South Americans were sinless? Why should he have
supposed that continent to be exclusively populated by archangels or
saints perfect in heaven? It would be a strong thing to say of the most
respectable neighbourhood; but when we come to think of what we really
do know of that society the remark is rather funny. We know that the
sinless priests of this sinless people worshipped sinless gods, who
accepted as the nectar and ambrosia of their sunny paradise nothing but
incessant human sacrifice accompanied by horrible torments. We may note
also in the mythology of this American civilisation that element of
reversal or violence against instinct of which Dante wrote; which runs
backwards everywhere through the unnatural religion of the demons. It is
notable not only in ethics but in aesthetics. A South American idol was
made as ugly as possible, as a Greek image was made as beautiful as
possible. They were seeking the secret of power, by working backwards
against their own nature and the nature of things. There was always a
sort of yearning to carve at last, in gold or granite or the dark red
timber of the forests, a face at which the sky itself would break like a
cracked mirror.

In any case it is clear enough that the painted and gilded civilisation
of tropical America systematically indulged in human sacrifice. It is by
no means clear, so far as I know, that the Eskimos ever indulged in
human sacrifice. They were not civilised enough. They were too closely
imprisoned by the white winter and the endless dark. Chill penury
repressed their noble rage and froze the genial current of the soul. It
was in brighter days and broader daylight that the noble rage is found
unmistakably raging. It was in richer and more instructed lands that the
genial current flowed on the altars, to be drunk by great gods wearing
goggling and grinning masks and called on in terror or torment by long
cacophonous names that sound like laughter in hell. A warmer climate and
a more scientific cultivation were needed to bring forth these blooms;
to draw up towards the sun the large leaves and flamboyant blossoms that
gave their gold and crimson and purple to that garden, which Swinburne
compares to the Hesperides. There was at least no doubt about the

I do not raise in this connection the special controversy about Spain
and Mexico; but I may remark in passing that it resembles exactly the
question that must in some sense be raised afterwards about Rome and
Carthage. In both cases there has been a queer habit among the English
of always siding against the Europeans, and representing the rival
civilisation, in Swinburne's phrase, as sinless; when its sins were
obviously crying or rather screaming to heaven. For Carthage also was a
high civilisation, indeed a much more highly civilised civilisation. And
Carthage also founded that civilisation on a religion of fear, sending
up everywhere the smoke of human sacrifice. Now it is very right to
rebuke our own race or religion for falling short of our own standards
and ideals. But it is absurd to pretend that they fell lower than the
other races and religions that professed the very opposite standards and
ideals. There is a very real sense in which the Christian is worse than
the heathen, the Spaniard worse than the Red Indian, or even the Roman
potentially worse than the Carthaginian. But there is only one sense in
which he is worse; and that is not in being positively worse. The
Christian is only worse because it is his business to be better.

This inverted imagination produces things of which it is better not to
speak. Some of them indeed might almost be named without being known;
for they are of that extreme evil which seems innocent to the innocent.
They are too inhuman even to be indecent. But without dwelling much
longer in these dark corners, it may be noted as not irrelevant here
that certain anti-human antagonisms seem to recur in this tradition of
black magic. There may be suspected as running through it everywhere,
for instance, a mystical hatred of the idea of childhood. People would
understand better the popular fury against the witches, if they
remembered that the malice most commonly attributed to them was
preventing the birth of children. The Hebrew prophets were perpetually
protesting against the Hebrew race relapsing into an idolatry that
involved such a war upon children; and it is probable enough that this
abominable apostasy from the God of Israel has occasionally appeared in
Israel since, in the form of what is called ritual murder; not of course
by any representative of the religion of Judaism, but by individual and
irresponsible diabolists who did happen to be Jews. This sense that the
forces of evil especially threaten childhood is found again in the
enormous popularity of the Child Martyr of the Middle Ages. Chaucer did
but give another version of a very national English legend, when he
conceived the wickedest of all possible witches as the dark alien woman
watching behind her high lattice and heading, like the babble of a brook
down the stony street, the singing of little St. Hugh.

Anyhow the part of such speculations that concerns this story centered
especially round that eastern end of the Mediterranean, where the nomads
had turned gradually into traders and had begun to trade with the whole
world. Indeed in the sense of trade and travel and colonial extension,
it already had something like an empire of the whole world. Its purple
dye, the emblem of its rich pomp and luxury, had steeped the wares which
were sold far away amid the last crags of Cornwall and the sails that
entered the silence of tropic seas amid all the mystery of Africa. It
might be said truly to have painted the map purple. It was already a
world-wide success, when the princes of Tyre would hardly have troubled
to notice that one of their princesses had condescended to marry the
chief of some tribe called Judah; when the merchants of its African
outpost would only have curled their bearded and Semitic lips with a
slight smile at the mention of a village called Rome. And indeed no two
things could have seemed more distant from each other, not only in space
but in Spirit, than the monotheism of the Palestinian tribe and the very
virtues of the small Italian republic. There was but one thing between
them; and the thing which divided them has united them. Very various and
incompatible were the things that could be loved by the consuls of Rome
and the prophets of Israel; but they were at one in what they hated. It
is very easy in both cases to represent that hatred as something merely
hateful. It is easy enough to make a merely harsh and inhuman figure
either of Elijah raving above the slaughter of Carmel or Cato thundering
against the amnesty of Africa. These men had their limitations and their
local passions; but this criticism of them is unimaginative and
therefore unreal. It leaves out something, something immense and
intermediate, facing east and west and calling up this passion in its
eastern and western enemies; and that something is the first subject of
this chapter.

The civilisation that centered in Tyre and Sidon was above all things
practical. It has left little in the way of art and nothing in the way
of poetry. But it prided itself upon being very efficient; and it
followed in its philosophy and religion that strange and sometimes
secret train of thought which we have already noted in those who look
for immediate effects. There is always in such a mentality an idea that
there is a short cut to the secret of all success; something that would
shock the world by this sort of shameless thoroughness. They believed,
in the appropriate modern phrase, in people who delivered the goods. In
their dealings with their god Moloch, they themselves were always
careful to deliver the goods. It was an interesting transaction, upon
which we shall have to touch more than once in the rest of the
narrative; it is enough to say here that it involved the theory I have
suggested, about a certain attitude towards children. This was what
called up against it in simultaneous fury the servant of one God in
Palestine and the guardians of all the household gods in Rome This is
what challenged two things naturally so much divided by every sort of
distance and disunion, whose union was to save the world.

I have called the fourth and final division of the spiritual elements
into which I should divide heathen humanity by the name of The
Philosophers. I confess that it covers in my mind much that would
generally be classified otherwise; and that what are here called
philosophies are very often called religions. I believe however that my
own description will be found to be much the more realistic and not the
less respectful. But we must first take philosophy in its purest and
clearest form that we may trace its normal outline; and that is to be
found in the world of the purest and clearest outlines, that culture of
the Mediterranean of which we have been considering the mythologies and
idolatries in the last two chapters.

Polytheism, or that aspect of paganism, was never to the pagan what
Catholicism is to the Catholic. It was never a view of the universe
satisfying all sides of life; a complete and complex truth with
something to say about everything. It was only a satisfaction of one
side of the soul of man, even if we call it the religious side; and I
think it is truer to call it the imaginative side. But this it did
satisfy; in the end it satisfied it to satiety. All that world was a
tissue of interwoven tales and cults, and there ran in and out of it, as
we have already seen, that black thread among its more blameless
colours; the darker paganism that was really diabolism. But we all know
that this did not mean that all pagan men thought of nothing but pagan
gods. Precisely because mythology only satisfied one mood, they turned
in other moods to something totally different. But it is very important
to realise that it was totally different. It was too different to be
inconsistent. It was so alien that it did not clash. While a mob of
people were pouring on a public holiday to the feast of Adonis or the
games in honour of Apollo, this or that man would prefer to stop at home
and think out a little theory about the nature of things. Sometimes his
hobby would even take the form of thinking about the nature of God; or
even in that sense about the nature of the gods. But he very seldom
thought of pitting his nature of the gods against the gods of nature.

It is necessary to insist on this abstraction in the first student of
abstractions. He was not so much antagonistic as absent-minded. His
hobby might be the universe; but at first the hobby was as private as if
it had been numismatics or playing draughts. And even when his wisdom
came to be a public possession, and almost a political situation, it was
very seldom on the same plane as the popular and religious institutions.
Aristotle, with his colossal common sense, was perhaps the greatest of
all philosophers; certainly the most practical of all philosophies But
Aristotle would no more have set up the Absolute side by side with the
Apollo of Delphi, as a similar or rival religion, than Archimedes would
have thought of setting up the lever as a sort of idol or fetish to be
substituted for the Palladium of the city. Or we might as well imagine
Euclid building an altar to an isosceles triangle, or offering
sacrifices to the square of the hypotenuse. The one man meditated on
metaphysics as the other man did on mathematics; for the love of truth
or for curiosity or for the fun of the thing. But that sort of fun never
seems to have interfered very much with the other sort of fun; the fun
of dancing or singing to celebrate some rascally romance about Zeus
becoming a bull or a swan. It is perhaps the proof of a certain
superficiality and even insincerity about the popular polytheism, that
men could be philosophers and even sceptics without disturbing it. These
thinkers could move the foundations of the world without altering even
the outline of that coloured cloud that hung above it in the air.

For the thinkers did move the foundations of the world, even when a
curious compromise seemed to prevent them from moving the foundations of
the city. The two great philosophers of antiquity do indeed appear to us
as defenders of sane and even of sacred ideas; their maxims often read
like the answers to sceptical questions too completely answered to be
always recorded. Aristotle annihilated a hundred anarchists and
nature-worshipping cranks by the fundamental statement that man is a
political animal. Plato in some sense anticipated the Catholic realism,
as attacked by the heretical nominalism, by insisting on the equally
fundamental fact that ideas are realities; that ideas exist just as men
exist. Plato however seemed sometimes almost to fancy that ideas exist
as men do not exist; or that the men need hardly be considered where
they conflict with the ideas. He had something of the social sentiment
that we call Fabian in his ideal of fitting the citizen to the city.
Like an imaginary head to an ideal hat; and great and glorious as he
remains, he has been the Father of all faddists. Aristotle anticipated
more fully the sacramental sanity that was to combine the body and the
soul of things; for he considered the nature of men as well as the
nature of morals, and looked to the eyes as well as to the light. But
though these great men were in that sense constructive and conservative,
they belonged to a world where thought was free to the point of being
fanciful. Many other great intellects did indeed follow them, some
exalting an abstract vision of virtue, others following more
rationalistically the necessity of the human pursuit of happiness. The
former had the name of Stoics; and their name has passed into a proverb
for what is indeed one of the main moral ideals of mankind: that of
strengthening the mind itself until it is of a texture to resist
calamity or even pain. But it is admitted that a great number of the
philosophers degenerated into what we still call sophists. They became a
sort of professional sceptics who went about asking uncomfortable
questions, and were handsomely paid for making themselves a nuisance to
normal people. It was perhaps an accidental resemblance to such
questioning quacks that was responsible for the unpopularity of the
great Socrates; whose death might seem to contradict the suggestion of
the permanent truce between the philosophers and the gods. But Socrates
did not die as a monotheist who denounced polytheism; certainly not as a
prophet who denounced idols. It is clear to anyone reading between the
lines that there was some notion, right or wrong, of a purely personal
influence affecting morals and perhaps politics The general compromise
remained, whether it was that the Greeks thought their myths a joke or
that they thought their theories a joke. There was never any collision
in which one really destroyed the other, and there was never any
combination in which one was really reconciled with the other. They
certainly did not work together; if anything the philosopher was a rival
of the priest. But both seemed to have accepted a sort of separation of
functions and remained parts of the same social system. Another
important tradition descends from Pythagoras; who is significant because
he stands nearest to the Oriental mystics who must be considered in
their turn. He taught a sort of mysticism of mathematics, that number is
the ultimate reality; but he also seems to have taught the
transmigration of souls like the Brahmins; and to have left to his
followers certain traditional tricks of vegetarianism and water-drinking
very common among the eastern sages, especially those who figure in
fashionable drawing-rooms, like those of the later Roman Empire. But in
passing to eastern sages, and the somewhat different atmosphere of the
east, we may approach a rather important truth by other path.

One of the great philosophers said that it would be well if philosophers
were kings, or kings were philosophers. He spoke as of something too
good to be true; but, as a matter of fact, it not unfrequently was true.
A certain type, perhaps too little noticed in history, may really be
called the royal philosopher. To begin with, apart from actual royalty,
it did occasionally become possible for the sage, though he was not what
we call a religious founder, to be something like a political founder.
And the great example of this, one of the very greatest in the world,
will with the very thought of it carry us thousands of miles across the
vast spaces of Asia to that very wonderful and in some ways that very
wise world of ideas and institutions, which we dismiss somewhat cheaply
when we talk of China. Men have served many very strange gods; and
trusted themselves loyally to many ideals and even idols. China is a
society that has really chosen to believe in intellect. It has taken
intellect seriously; and it may be that it stands alone in the world.
From a very early age it faced the dilemma of the king and the
philosopher by actually appointing a philosopher to advise the king. It
made a public institution out of a private individual, who had nothing
in the world to do but to be intellectual. It had and has, of course,
many other things on the same pattern. It creates all ranks and
privileges by public examination; it has nothing that we call an
aristocracy; it is a democracy dominated by an intelligensia. But the
point here is that it had philosophers to advise kings; and one of those
philosophers must have been a great philosopher and a great statesman.

Confucius was not a religious founder or even a religious teacher;
possibly not even a religious man. He was not an atheist; he was
apparently what we call an agnostic. But the really vital point is that
it is utterly irrelevant to talk about his religion at all. It is like
talking of theology as the first thing in the story of how Rowland Hill
established the postal system or Baden Powell organised the Boy Scouts.
Confucius was not there to bring a message from heaven to humanity, but
to organise China; and he must have organised it exceedingly well. It
follows that he dealt much with morals; but he bound them up strictly
with manners. The peculiarity of his scheme and of his country, in which
it contrasts with its great pendant the system of Christendom, is that
he insisted on perpetuating an external life with all its forms, that
outward continuity might preserve internal peace. Anyone who knows how
much habit has to do with health, of mind as well as body, will see the
truth in his idea. But he will also see that the ancestor-worship and
the reverence for the Sacred Emperor were habits and not creeds. It is
unfair to the great Confucius to say he was a religious founder. It is
even unfair to him to say he was not a religious founder. It is as
unfair as going out of one's way to say that Jeremy Bentham was not a
Christian martyr.

But there is a class of most interesting cases in which philosophers
were kings, and not merely the friends of kings. The combination is not
accidental. It has a great deal to do with this rather elusive question
of the function of the philosopher. It contains in it some hint of why
philosophy and mythology seldom came to an open rupture. It was not only
because there was something a little frivolous about the mythology. It
was also because there was something a little supercilious about the
philosopher. He despised the myths, but he also despised the mob; and
thought they suited each other. The pagan philosopher was seldom a man
of the people, at any rate in spirit; he was seldom a democrat and often
a bitter critic of democracy. He had about him an air of aristocratic
and humane leisure; and his part was most easily played by men who
happened to be in such a position. It was very easy and natural for a
prince or a prominent person to play at being as philosophical as Hamlet
or Theseus in the Midsummer Night's Dream. And from very early ages we
find ourselves in the presence of these princely intellectuals. In fact,
we find one of them in the very first recorded ages of the world;
sitting on the primeval throne that looked over ancient Egypt.

The most intense interest of the incident of Akenahten, commonly called
the Heretic Pharaoh, lies in the fact that he was the one example, at
any rate before Christian times, of one of these royal philosophers who
set himself to fight popular mythology in the name of private
philosophy. Most of them assumed the attitude of Marcus Aurelius, who is
in many ways the model of this sort of monarch and sage. Marcus Aurelius
has been blamed for tolerating the pagan amphitheatre or the Christian
martyrdoms. But it was characteristic; for this sort of man really
thought of popular religion just as he thought of popular circuses. Of
him Professor Phillimore has profoundly said 'a great and good man--and
he knew it.' The heretic Pharaoh had a philosophy more earnest and
perhaps more humble. For there is a corollary to the conception of being
too proud to fight. It is that the humble have to do most of the
fighting. Anyhow, the Egyptian prince was simple enough to take his own
philosophy seriously, and alone among such intellectual princes he
affected a sort of coup d'etat; hurling down the high gods of Egypt with
one imperial gesture and lifting up for all men, like a blazing mirror
of monotheistic truth, the disc of the universal sun. He had other
interesting ideas often to be found in such idealists. In the sense in
which we speak of a Little Englander he was a Little Egypter. In art he
was a realist because he was an idealist; for realism is more impossible
than any other ideal. But after all there falls on him something of the
shadow of Marcus Aurelius, stalked by the shadow of Professor
Phillimore. That is the matter with this noble sort of prince is that he
has nowhere quite escaped being something of a prig. Priggishness is so
pungent a smell that it clings amid the faded spices even to an Egyptian
mummy. That was the matter with the heretic Pharaoh, as with a good many
other heretics, was that he probably never paused to ask himself whether
there was anything in the popular beliefs and tales of people less
educated than himself. And, as already suggested, there was something in
them. There was a real human hunger in all that element of feature and
locality, that procession of deities like enormous pet animals, in that
unwearied watching at certain haunted spots, in all the many wanderings
of mythology. Nature may not have the name of Isis; Isis may not be
really looking for Osiris. But it is true that Nature is really looking
for something; Nature is always looking for the supernatural. Something
much more definite was to satisfy that need; but a dignified monarch
with a disc of the sun did not satisfy it. The royal experiment failed
amid a roaring reaction of popular superstitions, in which the priests
rose on the shoulders of the people and ascended the throne of the

The next great example I shall take of the princely sage is Gautama, the
great Lord Buddha. I know he is not generally classed merely with the
philosophers; but I am more and more convinced from all information that
reaches me, that this is the real interpretation of his immense
importance. He was by far the greatest and the best of these
intellectuals born in the purple. His reaction was perhaps the noblest
and most sincere of all the resultant actions of that combination of
thinkers and of thrones. For his reaction was renunciation. Marcus
Aurelius was content to say, with a refined irony, that even in a palace
life could be lived well. The fierier Egyptian king concluded that it
could be lived even better after a palace revolution. But the great
Gautama was the only one of them who proved he could really do without
his palace. One fell back on toleration and the other on revolution. But
after all there is something more absolute about abdication. Abdication
is perhaps the one really absolute action of an absolute monarch. The
Indian prince, reared in Oriental luxury and pomp, deliberately went out
and lived the life of a beggar. That is magnificent, but it is not war;
that is, it is not necessarily a Crusade in the Christian sense. It does
not decide the question of whether the life of a beggar was the life of
a saint or the life of a philosopher. It does not decide whether this
great man is really to go into the tub of Diogenes or the cave of St.
Jerome. Now those who seem to be nearest to the study of Buddha, and
certainly those who write most clearly and intelligently about him,
convince me for one that he was simply a philosopher who founded a
successful school of philosophy, and was turned into a sort of divus or
sacred being merely by the more mysterious and unscientific atmosphere
of all such traditions in Asia. So that it is necessary to say at this
point a word about that invisible yet vivid border-line that we cross in
passing from the Mediterranean into the mystery of the East.

Perhaps there are no things out of which we get so little of the truth
as the truisms; especially when they are really true. We are all in the
habit of saying certain things about Asia, which are true enough but
which hardly help us because we do not understand their truth; as that
Asia is old or looks to the past or is not progressive. Now it is true
that Christendom is more progressive, in a sense that has very little to
do with the rather provincial notion of an endless fuss of political
improvement. Christendom does believe, for Christianity does believe,
that man can eventually get somewhere, here or hereafter, or in various
ways according to various doctrines. The world's desire can somehow be
satisfied as desires are satisfied, whether by a new life or an old love
or some form of positive possession and fulfilment. For the rest, we all
know there is a rhythm and not a mere progress in things, that things
rise and fall; only with us the rhythm is a fairly free and incalculable
rhythm. For most of Asia the rhythm has hardened into a recurrence. It
is no longer merely a rather topsy-turvy sort of world; it is a wheel.
What has happened to all those highly intelligent and highly civilised
peoples is that they have been caught up in a sort of cosmic rotation,
of which the hollow hub is really nothing. In that sense the worst part
of existence is that it may just as well go on like that forever. That
is what we really mean when we say that Asia is old or unprogressive or
looking backwards. That is why we see even her curved swords as arcs
broken from that blinding wheel; why we see her serpentine ornament as
returning everywhere, like a snake that is never slain. It has very
little to do with the political varnish of progress; all Asiatics might
have top-hats on their heads but if they had this spirit still in their
hearts, they would only think the hats would vanish and come round again
like the planets; not that running after a hat could lead them to heaven
or even to home.

Now when the genius of Buddha arose to deal with the matter, this sort
of cosmic sentiment was already common to almost everything in the east.
There was indeed the jungle of an extraordinarily extravagant and almost
asphyxiating mythology. Nevertheless it is possible to have more
sympathy with this popular fruitfulness in folk-lore than with some of
the higher pessimism that might have withered it. It must always be
remembered, however, when all fair allowances are made, that a great
deal of spontaneous eastern imagery really is idolatry; the local and
literal worship of an idol. This is probably not true of the ancient
Brahminical system, at least as seen by Brahmins. But that phrase alone
will remind us of a reality of much greater moment. This great reality
is the Caste System of ancient India. It may have had some of the
practical advantages of the Guild System of Medieval Europe. But it
contrasts not only with that Christian democracy, but with every extreme
type of Christian aristocracy, in the fact that it does really conceive
the social superiority as a spiritual superiority. This not only divides
it fundamentally from the fraternity of Christendom, but leaves it
standing like a mighty and terraced mountain of pride between the
relatively egalitarian levels both of Islam and of China. But the fixity
of this formation through thousands of years is another illustration of
that spirit of repetition that has marked time from time immemorial. Now
we may also presume the prevalence of another idea which we associate
with the Buddhists as interpreted by the Theosophists. As a fact, some
of the strictest Buddhists repudiate the idea and still more scornfully
repudiate the Theosophists. But whether the idea is in Buddhism, or only
in the birthplace of Buddhism, or only in a tradition or a travesty of
Buddhism, it is an idea entirely proper to this principle of recurrence.
I mean of course the idea of Reincarnation.

But Reincarnation is not really a mystical idea. It is not really a
transcendental idea, or in that sense a religious idea. Mysticism
conceives something transcending experience; religion seeks glimpses of
a better good or a worse evil than experience can give. Reincarnation
need only extend experiences in the sense of repeating them. It is no
more transcendental for a man to remember what he did in Babylon before
he was born than to remember what he did in Brixton before he had a
knock on the head. His successive lives need not be any more than human
lives, under whatever limitations burden human life. It has nothing to
do with seeing God or even conjuring up the devil. In other words,
reincarnation as such does not necessarily escape from the wheel of
destiny, in some sense it is the wheel of destiny And whether it was
something that Buddha founded, or something that Buddha found, or
something that Buddha entirely renounced when he found, it is certainly
something having the general character of that Asiatic atmosphere in
which he had to play his part. And the part he played was that of an
intellectual philosopher, with a particular theory about the right
intellectual attitude towards it.

I can understand that Buddhists might resent the view that Buddhism is
merely a philosophy, if we understand by a philosophy merely an
intellectual game such as Greek sophists played, tossing up worlds and
catching them like balls. Perhaps a more exact statement would be that
Buddha was a man who made a metaphysical discipline; which might even be
called a psychological discipline. He proposed a way of escaping from
all this recurrent sorrow; and that was simply by getting rid of the
delusion that is called desire. It was emphatically not that we should
get what we want better by restraining our impatience for part of it, or
that we should get it in a better way or in a better world. It was
emphatically that we should leave off wanting it. If once a man realised
that there is really no reality, that everything, including his soul, is
in dissolution at every instant, he would anticipate disappointment and
be intangible to change, existing (in so far as he could be said to
exist) in a sort of ecstasy of indifference. The Buddhists call this
beatitude and we will not stop our story to argue the point; certainly
to us it is indistinguishable from despair. I do not see, for instance,
why the disappointment of desire should not apply as much to the most
benevolent desires as to the most selfish ones. Indeed the Lord of
Compassion seems to pity people for living rather than for dying. For
the rest, an intelligent Buddhist wrote 'the explanation of popular
Chinese and Japanese Buddhism is that it is not Buddhism.' That has
doubtless ceased to be a mere philosophy, but only by becoming a mere
mythology. One thing is certain; it has never become anything remotely
resembling what we call a Church.

It will appear only a jest to say that all religious history has really
been a pattern of noughts and crosses. But I do not by noughts mean
nothings, but only things that are negative compared with the positive
shape or pattern of the other. And though the symbol is of course only a
coincidence, it is a coincidence that really does coincide. The mind of
Asia can really be represented by a round 0, if not in the sense of a
cypher at least of a circle. The great Asiatic symbol of a serpent with
its tail in its mouth is really a very perfect image of a certain idea
of unity and recurrence that does indeed belong to the Eastern
philosophies and religions. It really is a curve that in one sense
includes everything, and in another sense comes to nothing. In that
sense it does confess, or rather boast, that all argument is an argument
in a circle. And though the figure is but a symbol, we can see how sound
is the symbolic sense that produces it, the parallel symbol of the Wheel
of Buddha generally called the Swastika The cross is a thing at right
angles pointing boldly in opposite directions; but the Swastika is the
same thing in the very act of returning to the recurrent curve. That
crooked cross is in fact a cross turning into a wheel. Before we dismiss
even these symbols as if they were arbitrary symbols, we must remember
how intense was the imaginative instinct that produced them or selected
them both in the east and the west. The cross has become something more
than a historical memory; it does convey, almost as by a mathematical
diagram, the truth about the real point at issue; the idea of a conflict
stretching outwards into eternity. It is true, and even tautological, to
say that the cross is the crux of the whole matter.

In other words the cross, in fact as well as figure, does really stand
for the idea of breaking out of the circle that is everything and
nothing. It does escape from the circular argument by which everything
begins and ends in the mind. Since we are still dealing in symbols, it
might be put in a parable in the form of that story about St. Francis,
which says that the birds departing with his benediction could wing
their way into the infinites of the four winds of heaven, their tracks
making a vast cross upon the sky; for compared with the freedom of that
flight of birds, the very shape of the Swastika is like a kitten chasing
its tail. In a more popular allegory, we might say that when St. George
thrust his spear into the monster's jaws, he broke in upon the solitude
of the self-devouring serpent and gave it something to bite besides its
own tail. But while many fancies might be used as figures of the truth,
the truth itself is abstract and absolute; though it is not very easy to
sum up except by such figures. Christianity does appeal to a solid truth
outside itself; to something which is in that sense external as well as
eternal. It does declare that things are really there; or in other words
that things are really things--In this Christianity is at one with
common sense; but all religious history shows that this common sense
perishes except where there is Christianity to preserve it.

It cannot otherwise exist, or at least endure, because mere thought does
not remain sane. In a sense it becomes too simple to be sane. The
temptation of the philosophers is simplicity rather than subtlety. They
are always attracted by insane simplifications, as men poised above
abysses are fascinated by death and nothingness and the empty air. It
needed another kind of philosopher to stand poised upon the pinnacle of
the Temple and keep his balance without casting himself down. One of
these obvious, these too obvious explanations is that everything is a
dream and a delusion and there is nothing outside the ego. Another is
that all things recur; another, which is said to be Buddhist and is
certainly Oriental, is the idea that what is the matter with us is our
creation, in the sense of our coloured differentiation and personality,
and that nothing will be well till we are again melted into one unity.
By this theory, in short, the Creation was the Fall. It is important
historically because it was stored up in the dark heart of Asia and went
forth at various times in various forms over the dim borders of Europe.
Here we can place the mysterious figure of Manes or Manichaeus, the
mystic of inversion, whom we should call a pessimist, parent of many
sects and heresies; here, in a higher place, the figure of Zoroaster. He
has been popularly identified with another of these too simple
explanations; the equality of evil and good, balanced and battling in
every atom. He also is of the school of sages that may be called
mystics; and from the same mysterious Persian garden came upon ponderous
wings Mithras, the unknown god, to trouble the last twilight of Rome.

That circle or disc of the sun set up in the morning of the world by the
remote Egyptian has been a mirror and a model for all the philosophers.
They have made many things out of it, and sometimes gone mad about it,
especially when as in these eastern sages the circle became a wheel
going round and round in their heads. But the point about them is that
they all think that existence can be represented by a diagram instead of
a drawing; and the rude drawings of the childish myth-makers are a sort
of crude and spirited protest against that view. They cannot believe
that religion is really not a pattern but a picture. Still less can they
believe that it is a picture of something that really exists outside our
minds. Sometimes the philosophy paints the disc all black and calls
himself a pessimist; sometimes he paints it all white and calls himself
an optimist; sometimes he divides it exactly into halves of black and
white and calls himself a dualist, like those Persian mystics to whom I
wish there were space to do justice. None of them could understand a
thing that began to draw the proportions just as if they were real
proportions, disposed in the living fashion which the mathematical
draughtsman would call disproportionate. Like the first artist in the
cave, it revealed to incredulous eyes the suggestion of a new purpose in
what looked like a wildly crooked pattern; he seemed only to be
distorting his diagram, when he began for the first time in all the ages
to trace the lines of a form--and of a Face.

* * *



The materialist theory of history, that all politics and ethics
are the expression of economics, is a very simple fallacy indeed.
It consists simply of confusing the necessary conditions of life with
the normal preoccupations of life, that are quite a different thing.
It is like saying that because a man can only walk about on two legs,
therefore he never walks about except to buy shoes and stockings.
Man cannot live without the two props of food and drink, which support
him like two legs; but to suggest that they have been the motives
of all his movements in history is like saying that the goal
of all his military marches or religious pilgrimages must have been
the Golden Leg of Miss Kilmansegg or the ideal and perfect leg of
Sir Willoughby Patterne.  But it is such movements that make up the story
of mankind and without them there would practically be no story at all.
Cows may be purely economic, in the sense that we cannot see that they
do much beyond grazing and seeking better grazing grounds; and that is why
a history of cows in twelve volumes would not be very lively reading.
Sheep and goats may be pure economists in their external action at least;
but that is why the sheep has hardly been a hero of epic wars and empires
thought worthy of detailed narration; and even the more active quadruped
has not inspired a book for boys called Golden Deeds of Gallant Goats
or any similar title.  But so far from the movements that make up
the story of man being economic, we may say that the story only begins
where the motive of the cows and sheep leaves off.  It will be hard
to maintain that the Crusaders went from their homes into a howling
wilderness because cows go from a wilderness to a more comfortable
grazing-grounds.  It will be hard to maintain that the Arctic explorers
went north with the same material motive that made the swallows go south.
And if you leave things like all the religious wars and all the merely
adventurous explorations out of the human story, it will not only cease to
be human at all but cease to be a story at all.  The outline of history is
made of these decisive curves and angles determined by the will of man.
Economic history would not even be history.

But there is a deeper fallacy besides this obvious fact; that men need
not live for food merely because they cannot live without food The truth
is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic
machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself;
the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of
his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him
than livelihood, and that is life. For once that he remembers exactly
what work produces his wages and exactly what wages produce his meals,
he reflects ten times that it is a fine day or it is a queer world, or
wonders whether life is worth living, or wonders whether marriage is a
failure, or is pleased and puzzled with his own children, or remembers
his own youth, or in any such fashion vaguely reviews the mysterious lot
of man. This is true of the majority even of the wage-slaves of our
morbid modern industrialism, which by its hideousness and in-humanity
has really forced the economic issue to the front. It is immeasurably
more true of the multitude of peasants or hunters or fishers who make up
the real mass of mankind. Even those dry pedants who think that ethics
depend on economics must admit that economics depend on existence. And
any number of normal doubts and day-dreams are about existence; not
about how we can live, but about why we do. And the proof of it is
simple; as simple as suicide. Turn the universe upside down in the mind
and you turn all the political economists upside down with it. Suppose
that a man wishes to die, and the professor of political economy becomes
rather a bore with his elaborate explanations of how he is to live. And
all the departures and decisions that make our human past into a story
have this character of diverting the direct course of pure economics. As
the economist may be excused from calculating the future salary of a
suicide, so he may be excused from providing an old age pension for a
martyr. As he need not provide for the future of a martyr so he need not
provide for the family of a monk. His plan is modified in lesser and
varying degrees by a man being a soldier and dying for his own country,
by a man being a peasant and specially loving his own land, by a man
being more or less affected by any religion that forbids or allows him
to do this or that. But all these come back not to an economic
calculation about livelihood but to an elemental outlook upon life. They
all come back to what a man fundamentally feels, when he looks forth
from those strange windows which we call the eyes, upon that strange
vision that we call the world.

No wise man will wish to bring more long words into the world. But it
may be allowable to say that we need a new thing; which may be called
psychological history. I mean the consideration of what things meant in
the mind of a man, especially an ordinary man; as distinct from what is
defined or deduced merely from official forms or political
pronouncements. I have already touched on it in such a case as the totem
or indeed any other popular myth. It is not enough to be told that a
tom-cat was called a totem; especially when it was not called a totem.
We want to know what it felt like. Was it like Whittington's cat or like
a witch's cat? Was its real name Pashtl or Puss-in-Boots? That is the
sort of thing we need touching the nature of political and social
relations. We want to know the real sentiment that was the social bond
of many common men, as sane and as selfish as we are. What did soldiers
feel when they saw splendid in the sky that strange totem that we call
the Golden Eagle of the Legions? What did vassals feel about those other
totems the lions or the leopards upon the shield of their lord? So long
as we neglect this subjective side of history, which may more simply be
called the inside of history, there will always be a certain limitation
on that science which can be better transcended by art. So long as the
historian cannot do that, fiction will be truer than fact. There will be
more reality in a novel; yes, even in a historical novel.

In nothing is this new history needed so much as in the psychology of
war. Our history is stiff with official documents, public or private,
which tell us nothing of the thing itself. At the worst we only have the
official posters, which could not have been spontaneous precisely
because they were official. At the best we have only the secret
diplomacy, which could not have been popular precisely because it was
secret. Upon one or other of these is based the historical judgement
about the real reasons that sustained the struggle. Governments fight
for colonies or commercial rights; governments fight about harbours or
high tariffs; governments fight for a gold mine or a pearl fishery. It
seems sufficient to answer that governments do not fight at all. Why do
the fighters fight? What is the psychology that sustains the terrible
and wonderful thing called a war? Nobody who knows anything of soldiers
believes the silly notion of the dons, that millions of men can be ruled
by force. If they were all to slack, it would be impossible to punish
all the slackers And the least little touch of slacking would lose a
whole campaign in half a day. What did men really feel about the policy?
If it be said that they accepted the policy from the politician, what
did they feel about the politician? If the vassals warred blindly for
their prince what did those blind men see in their prince?

There is something we all know which can only be rendered, in an
appropriate language, as realpolitik. As a matter of fact, it is an
almost insanely unreal politik. It is always stubbornly and stupidly
repeating that men fight for material ends, without reflecting for a
moment that the material ends are hardly ever material to the men who
fight. In any case no man will die for practical politics, just as no
man will die for pay. Nero could not hire a hundred Christians to be
eaten by lions at a shilling an hour; for men will not be martyred for
money. But the vision called up by real politik, or realistic politics,
is beyond example crazy and incredible. Does anybody in the world
believe that d soldier says, 'My leg is nearly dropping off, but I shall
go on till it drops; for after all I shall enjoy all the advantages of
my government obtaining a warm-water port in the Gulf of Finland.' Can
anybody suppose that a clerk turned conscript says, 'If I am gassed I
shall probably die in torments, but it is a comfort to reflect that
should I ever decide to become a pearl-diver in the South Seas, that
career is now open to me and my countrymen.' Materialist history is the
most madly incredible of all histories, or even of all romances.
Whatever starts wars, the thing that sustains wars is something in the
soul; that is something akin to religion. It is what men feel about life
and about death. A man near to death is dealing directly with an
absolute; it is nonsense to say he is concerned only with relative and
remote complications that death in any case will end. If he is sustained
by certain loyalties, they must be loyalties as simple as death. They
are generally two ideas, which are only two sides of one idea. The first
is the love of something said to be threatened, if it be only vaguely
known as home; the second is dislike and defiance of some strange thing
that threatens it. The first is far more philosophical than it sounds,
though we need not discuss it here. A man does not want his national
home destroyed or even changed, because he cannot even remember all the
good things that go with it; just as he does not want his house burnt
down, because he can hardly count all the things he would miss.
Therefore he fights for what sounds like a hazy abstraction, but is
really a house. But the negative side of it is quite as noble as well as
quite as strong. Men fight hardest when they feel that the foe is at
once an old enemy and an eternal stranger, that his atmosphere is alien
and antagonistic, as the French feel about the Prussian or the Eastern
Christians about the Turk. If we say it is a difference of religion,
people will drift into dreary bickerings about sects and dogmas. We will
pity them and say it is a difference about death and daylight; a
difference that does really come like a dark shadow between our eyes and
the day. Men can think of this difference even at the point of death;
for it is a difference about the meaning of life.

Men are moved in these things by something far higher and holier than
policy; by hatred. When men hung on in the darkest days of the Great
War, suffering either in their bodies or in their souls for those they
loved, they were long past caring about details of diplomatic objects as
motives for their refusal to surrender. Of myself and those I knew best
I can answer for the vision that made surrender impossible. It was the
vision of the German Emperor's face as he rode into Paris. This is not
the sentiment which some of my idealistic friends describe as Love. I am
quite content to call it hatred; the hatred of hell and all its works,
and to agree that as they do not believe in hell they need not believe
in hatred. But in the face of this prevalent prejudice, this long
introduction has been unfortunately necessary, to ensure an
understanding of what is meant by a religious war. There is a religious
war when two worlds meet; that is when two visions of the world meet; or
in more modern language when two moral atmospheres meet. What is the one
man's breath is the other man's poison; and it is vain to talk of giving
a pestilence a place in the sun. And this is what we must understand,
even at the expense of digression, if we would see what really happened
in the Mediterranean; when right athwart the rising of the Republic on
the Tiber, a thing overtopping and disdaining it, dark with all the
riddles of Asia and trailing all the tribes and dependencies of
imperialism, came Carthage riding on the sea.

The ancient religion of Italy was on the whole that mixture which we
have considered under the head of mythology; save that where the Greeks
had a natural turn for the mythology, the Latins seem to have had a real
turn for religion. Both multiplied gods, yet they sometimes seem to have
multiplied them for almost opposite reasons. It would seem sometimes as
if the Greek polytheism branched and blossomed upwards like the boughs
of a tree, while the Italian polytheism ramified downward like the
roots. Perhaps it would be truer to say that the former branches lifted
themselves lightly, bearing flowers; while the latter hung down, being
heavy with fruit. I mean that the Latins seem to multiply gods to bring
them nearer to men, while the Greek gods rose and radiated outwards into
the morning sky. What strikes us in the Italian cults is their local and
especially their domestic character. We gain the impression of
divinities swarming about the house like flies; of deities clustering
and clinging like bats about the pillars or building like birds under
the eaves. We have a vision of a god of roofs and a god of gate-posts,
of a god of doors and even a god of drains. It has been suggested that
all mythology was a sort of fairy-tale; but this was a particular sort
of fairy-tale which may truly be called a fireside tale, or a
nursery-tale; because it was a tale of the interior of the home; like
those which make chairs and tables talk like elves. The old household
gods of the Italian peasants seem to have been great, clumsy, wooden
images, more featureless than the figure-head which Quilp battered with
the poker. This religion of the home was very homely. Of course there
were other less human elements in the tangle of Italian mythology. There
were Greek deities superimposed on the Roman; there were here and there
uglier things underneath, experiments in the cruel kind of paganism,
like the Arician rite of the priest slaying the slayer. But these things
were always potential in paganism; they are certainly not the peculiar
character of Latin paganism. The peculiarity of that may be roughly
covered by saying that if mythology personified the forces of nature,
this mythology personified nature as transformed by the forces of man.
It was the god of the corn and not of the grass, of the cattle and not
the wild things of the forest; in short the cult was literally a
culture; as when we speak of it as agriculture.

With this there was a paradox which is still for many the puzzle or
riddle of the Latins. With religion running through every domestic
detail like a climbing plant, there went what seems to many the very
opposite spirit; the spirit of revolt. Imperialists and reactionaries
often involve Rome as the very model of order and obedience; but Rome
was the very reverse. The real history of ancient Rome is much more like
the history of modern Paris. It might be called in modern language a
city built out of barricades. It is said that the gate of Janus was
never closed because there was an eternal war without; it is almost as
true that there was an eternal revolution within. From the first
Plebeian riots to the last Servile Wars, the state that imposed peace on
the world was never really at peace. The rulers were themselves rebels.

There is a real relation between this religion in private and this
revolution in public life. Stories none the less heroic for being
hackneyed remind us that the Republic was founded on a tyrannicide that
avenged an insult to a wife; that the Tribunes of the people were
re-established after another which avenged an insult to a daughter. The
truth is that only men to whom the family is sacred will ever have a
standard or a status by which to criticise the state. They alone can
appeal to something more holy than the gods of the city; the gods of the
hearth. That is why men are mystified in seeing that the same nations
that are thought rigid in domesticity are also thought restless in
politics, for instance the Irish and the French. It is worth while to
dwell on this domestic point because it is an exact example of what is
meant here by the inside of history, like the inside of houses. Merely
political histories of Rome may be right enough in saying that this or
that was a cynical or cruel act of the Roman politicians; but the spirit
that lifted Rome from beneath was the spirit of all the Romans; and it
is not a cant to call it the ideal of Cincinnatus passing from the
senate to the plough. Men of that sort had strengthened their village on
every side, had extended its victories already over Italians and even
over Greeks, when they found themselves confronted with a war that
changed the world. I have called it here the war of the gods and demons.

There was established on the opposite coast of the inland sea a city
that bore the name of the New Town. It was already much older, more
powerful, and more prosperous than the Italian town; but there still
remained about it an atmosphere that made the name not inappropriate. It
had been called new because it was a colony like New York or New
Zealand. It was an outpost or settlement of the energy and expansion of
the great commercial cities of Tyre and Sidon. There was a note of the
new countries and colonies about it, a confident and commercial outlook.
It was fond of saying things that rang with a certain metallic
assurance; as that nobody could wash his hands in the sea without the
leave of the New Town. For it depended almost entirely on the greatness
of its ships, as did the two great ports and markets from which its
people came. It brought from Tyre and Sidon a prodigious talent for
trade and considerable experience of travel. It brought other things as

In a previous chapter I have hinted at something of the psychology that
lies behind a certain type of religion. There was a tendency in those
hungry for practical results, apart from poetical results, to call upon
spirits of terror and compulsion; to move Acheron in despair of bending
the Gods. There is always a sort of dim idea that these darker powers
will really do things, with no nonsense about it. In the interior
psychology of the Punic peoples this strange sort of pessimistic
practicality had grown to great proportions. In the New Town, which the
Romans called Carthage, as in the parent cities of Phoenicia, the god
who got things done bore the name of Moloch, who was perhaps identical
with the other deity whom we know as Baal, the Lord. The Romans did not
at first quite know what to call him or what to make of him; they had to
go back to the grossest myth of Greek or Roman origins and compare him
to Saturn devouring his children. But the worshippers of Moloch were not
gross or primitive. They were members of a mature and polished
civilisation, abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably
far more civilised than the Romans. And Moloch was not a myth; or at any
rate his meal was not a myth. These highly civilised people really met
together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing
hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. We can only realise the
combination by imagining a number of Manchester merchants with
chimney-pot hats and mutton-chop whiskers, going to church every Sunday
at eleven o'clock to see a baby roasted alive.

The first stages of the political or commercial quarrel can be followed
in far too much detail, precisely because it is merely political or
commercial. The Punic Wars looked at one time as if they would never
end; and it is not easy to say when they ever began. The Greeks and the
Sicilians had already been fighting vaguely on the European side against
the African city. Carthage had defeated Greece and conquered Sicily.
Carthage had also planted herself firmly in Spain; and between Spain and
Sicily the Latin city was contained and would have been crushed; if the
Romans had been of the sort to be easily crushed. Yet the interest of
the story really consists in the fact that Rome was crushed. If there
had not been certain moral elements as well as the material elements,
the story would have ended where Carthage certainly thought it had
ended. It is common enough to blame Rome for not making peace. But it
was a true popular instinct that there could be no peace with that sort
of people It is common enough to blame the Roman for his Delenda est
Carthago; Carthage must be destroyed. It is commoner to forget that, to
all appearance, Rome itself was destroyed. The sacred savour that hung
round Rome for ever, it is too often forgotten, clung to her partly
because she had risen suddenly from the dead. Carthage was an
aristocracy, as are most of such mercantile states. The pressure of the
rich on the poor was impersonal as well as irresistible. For such
aristocracies never permit personal government, which is perhaps why
this one was jealous of personal talent. But genius can turn up
anywhere, even in a governing class. As if to make the world's supreme
test as terrible as possible, it was ordained that one of the great
houses of Carthage should produce a man who came out of those gilded
palaces with all the energy and originality of Napoleon coming from
nowhere. At the worst crisis of the war Rome learned that Italy itself,
by a military miracle, was invaded from the north. Hannibal, the Grace
of Baal as his name ran in his own tongue, had dragged a ponderous chain
of armaments over the starry solitudes of the Alps; and pointed
southward to the city which he had been pledged by all his dreadful gods
to destroy.

Hannibal marched down the road to Rome, and the Romans who rushed to war
with him felt as if they were fighting with a magician. Two great armies
sank to right and left of him into the swamps of the Trebia; more and
more were sucked into the horrible whirlpool of Cannae; more and more
went forth only to fall in ruin at his touch. The supreme sign of all
disasters, which is treason, turned tribe after tribe against the
falling cause of Rome, and still the unconquerable enemy rolled nearer
and nearer to the city; and following their great leader the swelling
cosmopolitan army of Carthage passed like a pageant of the whole world;
the elephants shaking the earth like marching mountains and the gigantic
Gauls with their barbaric panoply and the dark Spaniards girt in gold
and the brown Numidians on their unbridled desert horses wheeling and
darting like hawks, and whole mobs of deserters and mercenaries and
miscellaneous peoples; and the grace of Baal went before them.

The Roman augurs and scribes who said in that hour that it brought forth
unearthly prodigies, that a child was born with the head of an elephant
or that stars fell down like hailstones, had a far more philosophical
grasp of what had really happened than the modern historian who can see
nothing in it but a success of strategy concluding a rivalry in
commerce. Something far different was felt at the time and on the spot,
as it is always felt by those who experience a foreign atmosphere
entering their own like a fog or a foul savour. It was no mere military
defeat, it was certainly no mere mercantile rivalry, that filled the
Roman imagination with such hideous omens of nature herself becoming
unnatural. It was Moloch upon the mountain of the Latins, looking with
his appalling face across the plain; it was Baal who trampled the
vineyards with his feet of stone; it was the voice of Tanit the
invisible, behind her trailing veils, whispering of the love that is
more horrible than hate. The burning of the Italian cornfields, the ruin
of the Italian vines, were some thing more than actual; they were
allegorical. They were the destruction of domestic and fruitful things,
the withering of what was human before that inhumanity that is far
beyond the human thing called cruelty. The household gods bowed low in
darkness under their lowly roofs; and above them went the demons upon a
wind from beyond all walls, blowing the trumpet of the Tramontane. The
door of the Alps was broken down; and in no vulgar but a very solemn
sense, it was Hell let loose. The war of the gods and demons seemed
already to have ended; and the gods were dead. The eagles were lost, the
legions were broken; and in Rome nothing remained but honour and the
cold courage of despair.

In the whole world one thing still threatened Carthage, and that was
Carthage. There still remained the inner working of an element strong in
all successful commercial states, and the presence of a spirit that we
know. There was still the solid sense and shrewdness of the men who
manage big enterprises; there was still the advice of the best financial
experts; there was still business government; there was still the broad
and sane outlook of practical men of affairs, and in these things could
the Romans hope. As the war trailed on to what seemed its tragic end,
there grew gradually a faint and strange possibility that even now they
might not hope in vain. The plain business men of Carthage, thinking as
such men do in terms of living and dying races, saw clearly that Rome
was not only dying but dead The war was over; it was obviously hopeless
for the Italian city to resist any longer, and inconceivable that
anybody should resist when it was hopeless. Under these circumstances,
another set of broad, sound business principles remained to be
considered. Wars were waged with money, and consequently cost money;
perhaps they felt in their hearts, as do so many of their kind, that
after all war must be a little wicked because it costs money. The time
had now come for peace; and still more for economy. The messages sent by
Hannibal from time to time asking for reinforcements were a ridiculous
anachronism; there were much more important things to attend to now. It
might be true that some consul or other had made a last dash to the
Metaurus, had killed Hannibal's brother and flung his head, with Latin
fury, into Hannibal's camp; and mad actions of that sort showed how
utterly hopeless the Latins felt about their cause. But even excitable
Latins could not be so mad as to cling to a lost cause for ever. So
argued the best financial experts; and tossed aside more and more
letters, full of rather queer alarmist reports. So argued and acted the
great Carthaginian Empire. That meaningless prejudice, the curse of
commercial states, that stupidity is in some way practical and that
genius is in some way futile, led them to starve and abandon that great
artist in the school of arms, whom the gods had given them in vain.

Why do men entertain this queer idea that what is sordid must always
overthrow what is magnanimous; that there is some dim connection between
brains and brutality, or that it does not matter if a man is dull so
long as he is also mean? Why do they vaguely think of all chivalry as
sentiment and all sentiment as weakness? They do it because they are,
like all men, primarily inspired by religion. For them, as for all men,
the first fact is their notion of the nature of things; their idea about
what world they are living in. And it is their faith that the only
ultimate thing is fear and therefore that the very heart of the world is
evil. They believe that death is stronger than life, and therefore dead
things must be stronger than living things; whether those dead things
are gold and iron and machinery or rocks and rivers and forces of
nature. It may sound fanciful to say that men we meet at tea-tables or
talk to at garden-parties are secretly worshippers of Baal or Moloch.
But this sort of commercial mind has its own cosmic vision and it is the
vision of Carthage. It has in it the brutal blunder that was the ruin of
Carthage. The Punic power fell because there is in this materialism a
mad indifference to real thought. By disbelieving in the soul, it comes
to disbelieving in the mind. Being too practical to be moral, it denies
what every practical soldier calls the moral of an army. It fancies that
money will fight when men will no longer fight. So it was with the Punic
merchant princes. Their religion was a religion of despair, even when
their practical fortunes were hopeful. How could they understand that
the Romans could hope even when their fortunes were hopeless? Their
religion was a religion of force and fear; how could they understand
that men can still despise fear even when they submit to force? Their
philosophy of the world had weariness in its very heart; above all they
were weary of warfare; how should they understand those who still wage
war even when they are weary of it? In a word, how should they
understand the mind of Man, who had so long bowed down before mindless
things, money and brute force and gods who had the hearts of beasts?
They awoke suddenly to the news that the embers they had disdained too
much even to tread out were again breaking everywhere into flames; that
Hasdrubal was defeated, that Hannibal was outnumbered, that Scipio had
carried the war into Spain; that he had carried it into Africa. Before
the very gates of the golden city Hannibal fought his last fight for it
and lost; and Carthage fell as nothing has fallen since Satan. The name
of the New City remains only as a name. There is no stone of it left
upon the sand. Another war was indeed waged before the final
destruction: but the destruction was final. Only men digging in its deep
foundation centuries after found a heap of hundreds of little skeletons,
the holy relics of that religion. For Carthage fell because she was
faithful to her own philosophy and had followed out to its logical
conclusion her own vision of the universe. Moloch had eaten his

The gods had risen again, and the demons had been defeated after all.
But they had been defeated by the defeated, and almost defeated by the
dead. Nobody understands the romance of Rome, and why she rose
afterwards to a representative leadership that seemed almost fated and
fundamentally natural. Who does not keep in mind the agony of horror and
humiliation through which she had continued to testify to the sanity
that is the soul of Europe? She came to stand alone in the midst of an
empire because she had once stood alone in the midst of a ruin and a
waste. After that all men knew in their hearts that she had been
representative of mankind, even when she was rejected of men. And there
fell on her the shadow from a shining and as yet invisible light and the
burden of things to be. It is not for us to guess in what manner or
moment the mercy of God might in any case have rescued the world; but it
is certain that the struggle which established Christendom would have
been very different if there had been an empire of Carthage instead of
an empire of Rome. We have to thank the patience of the Punic wars if,
in after ages, divine things descended at least upon human things and
not inhuman. Europe evolved into its own vices and its own impotence, as
will be suggested on another page; but the worst into which it evolved
was not like what it had escaped. Can any man in his senses compare the
great wooden doll, whom the children expected to eat a little bit of the
dinner, with the great idol who would have been expected to eat the
children? That is the measure of how far the world went astray, compared
with how far it might have gone astray. If the Romans were ruthless, it
was in a true sense to an enemy, and certainly not merely a rival. They
remembered not trade routes and regulations, but the faces of sneering
men; and hated the hateful soul of Carthage. And we owe them something
if we never needed to cut down the groves of Venus exactly as men cut
down the groves of Baal. We owe it partly to their harshness that our
thoughts of our human past are not wholly harsh. If the passage from
heathenry to Christianity was a bridge as well as a breach, we owe it to
those who kept that heathenry human. If, after all these ages, we are in
some sense at peace with paganism, and can think more kindly of our
fathers, it is well to remember the things that were and the things that
might have been. For this reason alone we can take lightly the load of
antiquity and need not shudder at a nymph on a fountain or a cupid on a
valentine. Laughter and sadness link us with things long past away and
remembered without dishonour; and we can see not altogether without
tenderness the twilight sinking around the Sabine farm and hear the
household gods rejoice when Catullus comes home to Sirmio. Deleta est

* * *



I was once sitting on a summer day in a meadow in Kent under the shadow
of a little village church, with a rather curious companion with whom I
had just been walking through the woods. He was one of a group of
eccentrics I had come across in my wanderings who had a new religion
called Higher Thought; in which I had been so far initiated as to
realise a general atmosphere of loftiness or height, and was hoping at
some later and more esoteric stage to discover the beginnings of
thought. My companion was the most amusing of them, for however he may
have stood towards thought, he was at least very much their superior in
experience, having travelled beyond the tropics while they were
meditating in the suburbs; though he had been charged with excess in
telling travellers' tales. In spite of anything said against him, I
preferred him to his companions and willingly went with him through the
wood; where I could not but feel that his sunburnt face and fierce
tufted eyebrows and pointed beard gave him something of the look of Pan.
Then we sat down in the meadow and gazed idly at the tree-tops and the
spire of the village church; while the warm afternoon began to mellow
into early evening and the song of a speck of a bird was faint far up in
the sky and no more than a whisper of breeze soothed rather than stirred
the ancient orchards of the garden of England. Then my companion said to
me: 'Do you know why the spire of that church goes up like that, I
expressed a respectable agnosticism, and he answered in an off-hand way,
'Oh, the same as the obelisks; the Phallic Worship of antiquity.' Then I
looked across at him suddenly as he lay there leering above his goatlike
beard; and for the moment I thought he was not Pan but the Devil. No
mortal words can express the immense, the insane incongruity and
unnatural perversion of thought involved in saying such a thing at such
a moment and in such a place. For one moment I was in the mood in which
men burned witches; and then a sense of absurdity equally enormous
seemed to open about me like a dawn. 'Why, of course,' I said after a
moment's reflection, 'if it hadn't been for phallic worship, they would
have built the spire pointing downwards and standing on its own apex.' I
could have sat in that field and laughed for an hour. My friend did not
seem offended, for indeed he was never thin-skinned about his scientific
discoveries. I had only met him by chance and I never met him again, and
I believe he is now dead; but though it has nothing to do with the
argument, it may be worth while to mention the name of this adherent of
Higher Thought and interpreter of primitive religious origins; or at any
rate the name by which he was known. It was Louis de Rougemont.

That insane image of the Kentish church standing on the point of its
spire, as in some old rustic, topsy-turvy tale, always comes back into
my imagination when I hear these things said about pagan origins; and
calls to my aid the laughter of the giants. Then I feel as genially and
charitably to all other scientific investigators, higher critics, and
authorities on ancient and modern religion, as I do to poor Louis de
Rougemont. But the memory of that immense absurdity remains as a sort of
measure and check by which to keep sane, not only on the subject of
Christian churches, but also on the subject of heathen temples. Now a
great many people have talked about heathen origins as the distinguished
traveller talked about Christian origins. Indeed a great many modern
heathens have been very hard on heathenism. A great many modern
humanitarians have been very hard on the real religion of humanity. They
have represented it as being everywhere and from the first rooted only
in these repulsive arcana; and carrying the character of something
utterly shameless and anarchical. Now I do not believe this for a
moment. I should never dream of thinking about the whole worship of
Apollo what De Rougemont could think about the worship of Christ. I
would never admit that there was such an atmosphere in a Greek city as
that madman was able to smell in a Kentish village. On the contrary, it
is the whole point, even of this final chapter upon the final decay of
paganism, to insist once more that the worst sort of paganism had
already been defeated by the best sort. It was the best sort of paganism
that conquered the gold of Carthage. It was the best sort of paganism
that wore the laurels of Rome. It was the best thing the world had yet
seen, all things considered and on any large scale, that ruled from the
wall of the Grampians to the garden of the Euphrates. It was the best
that conquered; it was the best that ruled; and it was the best that
began to decay.

Unless this broad truth be grasped, the whole story is seen askew.
Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good.
Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of
joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no
longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not
feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless. We
might almost say that in a society without such good things we should
hardly have any test by which to register a decline; that is why some of
the static commercial oligarchies like Carthage have rather an air in
history of standing and staring like mummies, so dried up and swathed
and embalmed that no man knows when they are new or old. But Carthage at
any rate was dead, and the worst assault ever made by the demons on
mortal society had been defeated. But how much would it matter that the
worst was dead if the best was dying?

To begin with, it must be noted that the relation of Rome to Carthage
was partially repeated and extended in her relation to nations more
normal and more nearly akin to her than Carthage. I am not here
concerned to controvert the merely political view that Roman statesmen
acted unscrupulously towards Corinth or the Greek cities. But I am
concerned to contradict the notion that there was nothing but a
hypocritical excuse in the ordinary Roman dislike of Greek cities. I am
not presenting these pagans as paladins of chivalry, with a sentiment
about nationalism never known until Christian times. But I am presenting
them as men with the feelings of men; and those feelings were not a
pretence. The truth is that one of the weaknesses in nature-worship and
mere mythology had already produced a perversion among the Greeks due to
the worst sophistry; the sophistry of simplicity. Just as they became
unnatural by worshipping nature, so they actually became unmanly by
worshipping man. If Greece led her conqueror, she might have misled her
conqueror; but these were things he did originally wish to conquer--ever
in himself. It is true that in one sense there was less inhumanity even
in Sodom and Gomorrah than in Tyre and Sidon. When we consider the war
of the demons on the children, we cannot compare even Greek decadence to
Punic devil-worship. But it is not true that the sincere revulsion from
either need be merely pharisaical. It is not true to human nature or to
common sense. Let any lad who has had the luck to grow up sane and
simple in his day-dreams of love hear for the first time of the cult of
Ganymede; he will not be merely shocked but sickened. And that first
impression, as has been said here so often about first impressions, will
be right. Our cynical indifference is an illusion; it is the greatest of
all illusions; the illusion of familiarity. It is right to conceive the
more or less rustic virtues of the ruck of the original Romans as
reacting against the very rumour of it, with complete spontaneity and
sincerity. It is right to regard them as reacting, if in a lesser
degree, exactly as they did against the cruelty of Carthage. Because it
was in a less degree they did not destroy Corinth as they destroyed
Carthage. But if their attitude and action was rather destructive, in
neither case need their indignation have been mere self-righteousness
covering mere selfishness. And if anybody insists that nothing could
have operated in either case but reasons of state and commercial
conspiracies, we can only tell him that there is something which he does
not understand; something which possibly he will never understand;
something which, until he does understand, he will never understand the
Latins. That something is called democracy. He has probably heard the
word a good many times and even used it himself; but he has no notion of
what it means. All through the revolutionary history of Rome there was
an incessant drive towards democracy; the state and the statesman could
do nothing without a considerable backing of democracy; the sort of
democracy that never has anything to do with diplomacy. It is precisely
because of the presence of Roman democracy that we hear so much about
Roman oligarchy. For instance, recent historians have tried to explain
the valour and victory of Rome in terms of that detestable and detested
usury which was practised by some of the Patricians; as if Curius had
conquered the men of the Macedonian phalanx by lending them money; or
the consul Nero had negotiated the victory of Metaurus at five per cent.
But we realise the usury of the Patricians because of the perpetual
revolt of the Plebeians. The rule of the Punic merchant princes had the
very soul of usury. But there was never a Punic mob that dared to call
them usurers.

Burdened like all mortal things with all mortal sin and weakness, the
rise of Rome had really been the rise of normal and especially of
popular things; and in nothing more than in the thoroughly normal and
profoundly popular hatred of perversion. Now among the Greeks a
perversion had become a convention. It is true that it had become so
much of a convention, especially a literary convention, that it was
sometimes conventionally copied by Roman literary men. But this is one
of those complications that always arise out of conventions. It must not
obscure our sense of the difference of tone in the two societies as a
whole. It is true that Virgil would once in a way take over a theme of
Theocritus; but nobody can get the impression that Virgil was
particularly fond of that theme. The themes of Virgil were specially and
notably the normal themes and nowhere more than in morals; piety and
patriotism and the honour of the countryside. And we may well pause upon
the name of the poet as we pass into the autumn of antiquity; upon his
name who was in so supreme a sense the very voice of autumn of its
maturity and its melancholy; of its fruits of fulfilment and its
prospect of decay. Nobody who reads even a few lines of Virgil can doubt
that he understood what moral sanity means to mankind. Nobody can doubt
his feelings when the demons were driven in flight before the household
gods. But there are two particular points about him and his work which
are particularly important to the main thesis here. The first is that
the whole of his great patriotic epic is in a very peculiar sense
founded upon the fall of Troy; that is upon an avowed pride in Troy
although she had fallen. In tracing to Trojans the foundation of his
beloved race and republic, he began what may be called the great Trojan
tradition which runs through medieval and modern history. We have
already seen the first hint of it in the pathos of Homer about Hector.
But Virgil turned it not merely into a literature but into a legend. And
it was a legend of the almost divine dignity that belongs to the
defeated. This was one of the traditions that did truly prepare the
world for the coming of Christianity and especially of Christian
chivalry. This is what did help to sustain civilisation through the
incessant defeats of the Dark Ages and the barbarian wars; out of which
what we call chivalry was born. It is the moral attitude of the man with
his back to the wall; and it was the wall of Troy. All through medieval
and modern times this version of the virtues in the Homeric conflict can
be traced in a hundred ways co-operating with all that was akin to it in
Christian sentiment. Our own countrymen, and the men of other countries,
loved to claim like Virgil that their own nation was descended from the
heroic Trojans. All sorts of people thought it the most superb sort of
heraldry to claim to be descended from Hector. Nobody seems to have
wanted to be descended from Achilles. The very fact that the Trojan name
has become a Christian name, and been scattered to the last limits of
Christendom, to Ireland or the Gaelic Highlands, while the Greek name
has remained relatively rare and pedantic, is a tribute to the same
truth. Indeed it involves a curiosity of language almost in the nature
of a joke. The name has been turned into a verb; and the very phrase
about hectoring, in the sense of swaggering, suggests the myriads of
soldiers who have taken the fallen Trojan for a model. As a matter of
fact, nobody in antiquity was less given to hectoring than Hector. But
even the bully pretending to be a conqueror took his title from the
conquered. That is why the popularisation of the Trojan origin by Virgil
has a vital relation to all those elements that have made men say that
Virgil was almost a Christian. It is almost as if two great tools or
toys of the same timber, the divine and the human, had been in the hands
of Providence; and the only thing comparable to the Wooden Cross of
Calvary was the Wooden Horse of Troy. So, in some wild allegory, pious
in purpose if almost profane in form, the Holy Child might have fought
the dragon with a wooden sword and a wooden horse.

The other element in Virgil which is essential to the argument is the
particular nature of his relation to mythology; or what may here in a
special sense be called folklore, the faiths and fancies of the
populace. Everybody knows that his poetry at its most perfect is less
concerned with the pomposity of Olympus than with the numina of natural
and agricultural life. Everyone knows where Virgil looked for the causes
of things. He speaks of finding them not so much in cosmic allegories of
Uranus and Chronos; but rather in Pan and the sisterhood of the nymphs
and Sylvanus the old man of the forest. He is perhaps most himself in
some passages of the Eclogues, in which he has perpetuated for ever the
great legend of Arcadia and the shepherds. Here again it is easy enough
to miss the point with petty criticism about all the things that happen
to separate his literary convention from ours. There is nothing more
artificial than the cry of artificiality as directed against the old
pastoral poetry. We have entirely missed all that our fathers meant by
looking at the externals of what they wrote. People have been so much
amused with the mere fact that the china shepherdess was made of china
that they have not even asked why she was made at all. They have been so
content to consider the Merry Peasant as a figure in an opera that they
have not asked even how he came to go to the opera, or how he strayed on
to the stage.

In short, one have only to ask why there is a china shepherdess and not
a china shopkeeper. Why were not mantelpieces adorned with figures of
city merchants in elegant attitudes; of ironmasters wrought in iron or
gold speculators in gold? Why did the opera exhibit a Merry Peasant and
not a Merry Politician? Why was there not a ballet of bankers,
pirouetting upon pointed toes? Because the ancient instinct and humour
of humanity have always told them, under whatever conventions, that the
conventions of complex cities were less really healthy and happy than
the customs of the countryside. So it is with the eternity of the
Eclogues. A modern poet did indeed write things called Fleet Street
Eclogues, in which poets took the place of the shepherds. But nobody has
yet written anything called Wall Street Eclogues, in which millionaires
should take the place of the poets. And the reason is that there is a
real if only a recurrent yearning for that sort of simplicity; and there
is never that sort of yearning for that sort of complexity. The key to
the mystery of the Merry Peasant is that the peasant often is merry.
Those who do not believe it are simply those who do not know anything
about him, and therefore do not know which are his times for merriment.
Those who do not believe in the shepherd's feast or song are merely
ignorant of the shepherd's calendar. The real shepherd is indeed very
different from the ideal shepherd, but that is no reason for forgetting
the reality at the root of the ideal. It needs a truth to make a
tradition. It needs a tradition to make a convention. Pastoral poetry is
certainly often a convention, especially in a social decline. It was in
a social decline that Watteau shepherds and shepherdesses lounged about
the gardens of Versailles. It was also in a social decline that
shepherds and shepherdesses continued to pipe and dance through the most
faded imitations of Virgil. But that is no reason for dismissing the
dying paganism without ever understanding its life. It is no reason for
forgetting that the very word Pagan is the same as the word Peasant. We
may say that this art is only artificiality; but it is not a love of the
artificial. On the contrary, it is in its very nature only the failure
of nature-worship, or the love of the natural.

For the shepherds were dying because their gods were dying. Paganism
lived upon poetry; that poetry already considered under the name of
mythology. But everywhere, and especially in Italy, it had been a
mythology and a poetry rooted in the countryside; and that rustic
religion had been largely responsible for the rustic happiness. Only as
the whole society grew in age and experience, there began to appear that
weakness in all mythology already noted in the chapter under that name.
This religion was not quite a religion. In other words, this religion
was not quite a reality. It was the young world's riot with images and
ideas like a young man's riot with wine or love-making; it was not so
much immoral as irresponsible; it had no foresight of the final test of
time. Because it was creative to any extent it was credulous to any
extent. It belonged to the artistic side of man, yet even considered
artistically it had long become overloaded and entangled. The family
trees sprung from the seed of Jupiter were a jungle rather than a
forest; the claims of the gods and demi-gods seemed like things to be
settled rather by a lawyer or a professional herald than by a poet. But
it is needless to say that it was not only in the artistic sense that
these things had grown more anarchic. There had appeared in more and
more flagrant fashion that flower of evil that is really implicit in the
very seed of nature-worship, however natural it may seem. I have said
that I do not believe that natural worship necessarily begins with this
particular passion; I am not of the De Rougemont school of scientific
folk-lore. I do not believe that mythology must begin with eroticism.
But I do believe that mythology must end in it. I am quite certain that
mythology did end in it. Moreover, not only did the poetry grow more
immoral, but the immorality grew more indefensible. Greek vices,
oriental vices, hints of the old horrors of the Semitic demons began to
fill the fancies of decaying Rome, swarming like flies on a dung heap.
The psychology of it is really human enough to anyone who will try that
experiment of seeing history from the inside There comes an hour in the
afternoon when the child is tired of 'pretending'; when he is weary of
being a robber or a Red Indian. It is then that he torments the cat.
There comes a time in the routine of an ordered civilisation when the
man is tired at playing at mythology and pretending that a tree is a
maiden or that the moon made love to a man. The effect of this staleness
is the same everywhere; it is seen in all drug-taking and dram-drinking
and every form of the tendency to increase the dose. Men seek stranger
sins or more startling obscenities as stimulants to their jaded sense.
They seek after mad oriental religions for the same reason. They try to
stab their nerves to life, if it were with the knives of the priests of
Baal. They are walking in their sleep and try to wake themselves up with

At that stage even of paganism therefore the peasant songs and dances
sound fainter and fainter in the forest. For one thing the peasant
civilisation was fading, or had already faded from the whole
countryside. The Empire at the end was organised more and more on that
servile system which generally goes with the boast of organisation,
indeed it was almost as senile as the modern schemes for the
organisation of industry. It is proverbial that what would once have
been a peasantry became a mere populace of the town dependent for bread
and circuses; which may again suggest to some a mob dependent upon doles
and cinemas. In this as in many other respects the modern return to
heathenism has been a return not even to the heathen youth but rather to
the heathen old age. But the causes of it were spiritual in both cases;
and especially the spirit of paganism had departed with its familiar
spirits. The heat had gone out of it with its household gods, who went
along with the gods of the garden and the field and the forest. The Old
Man of the Forest was too old; he was already dying. It is said truly in
a sense that Pan died because Christ was born. It is almost as true in
another sense that men knew that Christ was born because Pan was already
dead. A void was made by the vanishing of the whole mythology of
mankind, which would have asphyxiated like a vacuum if it had not been
filled with theology. But the point for the moment is that the mythology
could not have lasted like a theology in any case. Theology is thought,
whether we agree with it or not. Mythology was never thought, and nobody
could really agree with it or disagree with it. It was a mere mood of
glamour and when the mood went it could not be recovered. Men not only
ceased to believe in the gods, but they realised that they had never
believed in them. They had sung their praises; they had danced round
their altars. They had played the flute; they had played the fool.

So came the twilight upon Arcady and the last notes of the pipe sound
sadly from the beechen grove. In the great Virgilian poems there is
already something of the sadness; but the loves and the household gods
linger in lovely lines like that which Mr. Belloc took for a test of
understanding; incipe parve puer risu cognoscere matrem. But with them
as with us, the human family itself began to break down under servile
organisation and the herding of the towns. The urban mob became
enlightened; that is it lost the mental energy that could create myths.
All round the circle of the Mediterranean cities the people mourned for
the loss of gods and were consoled with gladiators. And meanwhile
something similar was happening to that intellectual aristocracy of
antiquity that had been walking about and talking at large ever since
Socrates and Pythagoras. They began to betray to the world the fact that
they were walking in a circle and saying the same thing over and over
again. Philosophy began to be a joke; it also began to be a bore. That
unnatural simplification of everything into one system or another, which
we have noted as the fault of the philosopher, revealed at once its
finality and its futility. Everything was virtue or everything was
happiness or everything was fate or everything was good or everything
was bad; anyhow, everything was everything and there was no more to be
said; so they said it. Everywhere the sages had degenerated into
sophists; that is, into hired rhetoricians or askers of riddles. It is
one of the symptoms of this that the sage begins to turn not only into a
sophist but into a magician. A touch of oriental occultism is very much
appreciated in the best houses. As the philosopher is already a society
entertainer, he may as well also be a conjurer.

Many moderns have insisted on the smallness of that Mediterranean world;
and the wider horizons that might have awaited it with the discovery of
the other continents. But this is an illusion, one of the many illusions
of materialism. The limits that paganism had reached in Europe were the
limits of human existence; at its best it had only reached the same
limits anywhere else. The Roman stoics did not need any Chinamen to
teach them stoicism. The Pythagoreans did not need any Hindus to teach
them about recurrence or the simple life or the beauty of being a
vegetarian. In so far as they could get these things from the East, they
had already got rather too much of them from the East. The Syncretists
were as convinced as Theosophists that all religions are really the
same. And how else could they have extended philosophy merely by
extending geography? It can hardly be proposed that they should learn a
purer religion from the Aztecs or sit at the feet of the Incas of Peru.
All the rest of the world was a welter of barbarism. It is essential to
recognise that the Roman Empire was recognised as the highest
achievement of the human race; and also as the broadest. A dreadful
secret seemed to be written as in obscure hieroglyphics across those
mighty works of marble and stone, those colossal amphitheatres and
aqueducts. Man could do no more.

For it was not the message blazed on the Babylonian wall, that one king
was found wanting or his one kingdom given to a stranger. It was no such
good news as the news of invasion and conquest. There was nothing left
that could conquer Rome; but there was also nothing left that could
improve it. It was the strongest thing that was growing weak. It was the
best thing that was going to the bad. It is necessary to insist again
and again that many civilisations had met in one civilisation of the
Mediterranean sea; that it was already universal with a stale and
sterile universality. The peoples had pooled their resources and still
there was not enough. The empires had gone into partnership and they
were still bankrupt. No philosopher who was really philosophical could
think anything except that, in that central sea, the wave of the world
had risen to its highest, seeming to touch the stars. But the wave was
already stooping; for it was only the wave of the world.

That mythology and that philosophy into which paganism has already been
analysed had thus both of them been drained most literally to the dregs.
If with the multiplication of magic the third department, which we have
called the demons, was even increasingly active, it was never anything
but destructive. There remains only the fourth element or rather the
first; that which had been in a sense forgotten because it was the
first. I mean the primary and overpowering yet impalpable impression
that the universe after all has one origin and one aim; and because it
has an aim must have an author. What became of this great truth in the
background of men's minds, at this time, it is perhaps more difficult to
determine. Some of the Stoics undoubtedly saw it more and more clearly
as the clouds of mythology cleared and thinned away; and great men among
them did much even to the last to lay the foundations of a concept of
the moral unity of the world. The Jews still held their secret certainty
of it jealously behind high fences of exclusiveness; yet it is intensely
characteristic of the society and the situation that some fashionable
figures, especially fashionable ladies, actually embraced Judaism. But
in the case of many others I fancy there entered at this point a new
negation. Atheism became really possible in that abnormal time; for
atheism is abnormality. It is not merely the denial of a dogma. It is
the reversal of a subconscious assumption in the soul; the sense that
there is a meaning and a direction in the world it sees. Lucretius, the
first evolutionist who endeavoured to substitute Evolution for God, had
already dangled before men's eyes his dance of glittering atoms, by
which he conceived cosmos as created by chaos. But it was not his strong
poetry or his sad philosophy, as I fancy, that made it possible for men
to entertain such a vision. It was something in the sense of impotence
and despair with which men shook their fists vainly at the stars, as
they saw all the best work of humanity sinking slowly and helplessly
into a swamp. They could easily believe that even creation itself was
not a creation but a perpetual fall, when they saw that the weightiest
and worthiest of all human creations was falling by its own weight. They
could fancy that all the stars were falling stars; and that the very
pillars of their own solemn porticos were bowed under a sort of gradual
deluge. To men in that mood there was a reason for atheism that is in
some sense reasonable. Mythology might fade and philosophy might
stiffen; but if behind these things there was a reality, surely that
reality might have sustained things as they sank. There was no God; if
there had been a God, surely this was the very moment when He would have
moved and saved the world.

The life of the great civilisation went on with dreary industry and even
with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it
was that it need never end. A convenient compromise had been made
between all the multitudinous myths and religions of the Empire; that
each group should worship freely and merely live a sort of official
flourish of thanks to the tolerant Emperor, by tossing a little incense
to him under his official title of Divus. Naturally there was no
difficulty about that; or rather it was a long time before the world
realised that there ever had been even a trivial difficulty anywhere.
The members of some Eastern sect or secret society or other seemed to
have made a scene somewhere; nobody could imagine why. The incident
occurred once or twice again and began to arouse irritation out of
proportion to its insignificance. It was not exactly what these
provincials said; though of course it sounded queer enough. They seemed
to be saying that God was dead and that they themselves had seen him
die. This might be one of the many manias produced by the despair of the
age; only they did not seem particularly despairing. They seem quite
unnaturally joyful about it, and gave the reason that the death of God
had allowed them to eat him and drink his blood. According to other
accounts God was not exactly dead after all; there trailed through the
bewildered imagination some sort of fantastic procession of the funeral
of God, at which the sun turned black, but which ended with the dead
omnipotence breaking out of the tomb and rising again like the sun. But
it was not the strange story to which anybody paid any particular
attention; people in that world had seen queer religions enough to fill
a madhouse. It was something in the tone of the madmen and their type of
formation. They were a scratch company of barbarians and slaves and poor
and unimportant people; but their formation was military; they moved
together and were very absolute about who and what was really a part of
their little system; and about what they said. However mildly, there was
a ring like iron. Men used to many mythologies and moralities could make
no analysis of the mystery, except the curious conjecture that they
meant what they said. All attempts to make them see reason in the
perfectly simple matter of the Emperor's statue seemed to be spoken to
deaf men. It was as if a new meteoric metal had fallen on the earth; it
was a difference of substance to the touch. Those who touched their
foundation fancied they had struck a rock.

With a strange rapidity, like the changes of a dream, the proportions of
things seemed to change in their presence. Before most men knew what had
happened, these few men were palpably present. They were important
enough to be ignored. People became suddenly silent about them and
walked stiffly past them. We see a new scene, in which the world has
drawn its skirts away from these men and women and they stand in the
centre of a great space like lepers. The scene changes again and the
great space where they stand is overhung on every side with a cloud of
witnesses, interminable terraces full of faces looking down towards them
intently; for strange things are happening to them. New tortures have
been invented for the madmen who have brought good news. That sad and
weary society seems almost to find a new energy in establishing its
first religious persecution. Nobody yet knows very clearly why that
level world has thus lost its balance about the people in its midst; but
they stand unnaturally still while the arena and the world seem to
revolve round them. And there shone on them in that dark hour a light
that has never been darkened; a white fire clinging to that group like
an unearthly phosphorescence, blazing its track through the twilights of
history and confounding every effort to confound it with the mists of
mythology and theory; that shaft of light or lightning by which the
world itself has struck and isolated and crowned it; by which its own
enemies have made it more illustrious and its own critics have made it
more inexplicable; the halo of hatred around the Church of God.

* * *



* * *


This sketch of the human story began in a cave; the cave which popular
science associates with the cave-man and in which practical discovery
has really found archaic drawings of animals. The second half of human
history, which was like a new creation of the world, also begins in a
cave. There is even a shadow of such a fancy in the fact that animals
were again present; for it was a cave used as a stable by the
mountaineers of the uplands about Bethlehem; who still drive their
cattle into such holes and caverns at night. It was here that a homeless
couple had crept underground with the cattle when the doors of the
crowded caravanserai had been shut in their faces; and it was here
beneath the very feet of the passers-by, in a cellar under the very
floor of the world, that Jesus Christ was born. But in that second
creation there was indeed something symbolical in the roots of the
primeval rock or the horns of the prehistoric herd. God also was a
Cave-Man, and had also traced strange shapes of creatures, curiously
coloured, upon the wall of the world; but the pictures that he made had
come to life.

A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end, has
repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands
that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads
of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest,
all the literature of our faith is founded. It is at least like a jest
in this, that it is something which the scientific critic cannot see. He
laboriously explains the difficulty which we have always defiantly and
almost derisively exaggerated; and mildly condemns as improbable
something that we have almost madly exalted as incredible; as something
that would be much too good to be true, except that it is true. When
that contrast between the cosmic creation and the little local infancy
has been repeated, reiterated, underlined, emphasised, exulted in, sung,
shouted, roared, not to say howled, in a hundred thousand hymns, carols,
rhymes, rituals, pictures, poems, and popular sermons, it may be
suggested that we hardly need a higher critic to draw our attention to
something a little odd about it; especially one of the sort that seems
to take a long time to see a joke, even his own joke. But about this
contrast and combination of ideas one thing may be said here, because it
is relevant to the whole thesis of this book. The sort of modern critic
of whom I speak is generally much impressed with the importance of
education in life and the importance of psychology in education. That
sort of man is never tired of telling us that first impressions fix
character by the law of causation; and he will become quite nervous if a
child's visual sense is poisoned by the wrong colours on a golliwog or
his nervous system prematurely shaken by a cacophonous rattle. Yet he
will think us very narrow-minded, if we say that this is exactly why
there really is a difference between being brought up as a Christian and
being brought up as a Jew or a Moslem or an atheist. The difference is
that every Catholic child has learned from pictures, and even every
Protestant child from stories, this incredible combination of contrasted
ideas as one of the very first impressions on his mind. It is not merely
a theological difference. It is a psychological difference which can
outlast any theologies. It really is, as that sort of scientist loves to
say about anything, incurable. Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood
has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or
not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind
must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea
of unknown strength that sustains the stars. His instincts and
imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see
the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savour of
religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of
mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God.
But the two ideas are not naturally or necessarily combined. They would
not be necessarily combined for an ancient Greek or a Chinaman, even for
Aristotle or Confucius. It is no more inevitable to connect God with an
infant than to connect gravitation with a kitten. It has been created in
our minds by Christmas because we are Christians, because we are
psychological Christians even when we are not theological ones. In other
words, this combination of ideas has emphatically, in the much disputed
phrase, altered human nature. There is really a difference between the
man who knows it and the man who does not. It may not be a difference of
moral worth, for the Moslem or the Jew might be worthier according to
his lights; but it is a plain fact about the crossing of two particular
lights, the conjunction of two stars in our particular horoscope.
Omnipotence and impotence, or divinity and infancy, do definitely make a
sort of epigram which a million repetitions cannot turn into a
platitude. It is not unreasonable to call it unique. Bethlehem is
emphatically a place where extremes meet.

Here begins, it is needless to say, another mighty influence for the
humanisation of Christendom. If the world wanted what is called a
non-controversial aspect of Christianity, it would probably select
Christmas. Yet it is obviously bound up with what is supposed to be a
controversial aspect (I could never at any stage of my opinions imagine
why); the respect paid to the Blessed Virgin. When I was a boy a more
Puritan generation objected to a statue upon my parish church
representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they
compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even
more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less
dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical
difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a
mother from all round that of a new-born child. You can not suspend the
new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a
new-born child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a
new-born child in the void or think of him without thinking of his
mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother; you
cannot in common human life approach the child except through the
mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other
idea follows as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ
out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only
as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near
together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.

It might be suggested, in a somewhat violent image, that nothing had
happened in that fold or crack in the great grey hills except that the
whole universe had been turned inside out. I mean that all the eyes of
wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing
were now turned inward to the smallest. The very image will suggest all
that multitudinous marvel of converging eyes that makes so much of the
coloured Catholic imagery like a peacock's tail. But it is true in a
sense that God who had been only a circumference was seen as a centre;
and a centre is infinitely small. It is true that the spiritual spiral
henceforward works inwards instead of outwards, and in that sense is
centripetal and not centrifugal. The faith becomes, in more ways than
one, a religion of little things. But its traditions in art and
literature and popular fable have quite sufficiently attested, as has
been said, this particular paradox of the divine being in the cradle.
Perhaps they have not so clearly emphasised the significance of the
divine being in the cave. Curiously enough, indeed, tradition has not
very clearly emphasised the cave. It is a familiar fact that the
Bethlehem scene has been represented in every possible setting of time
and country, of landscape and architecture; and it is a wholly happy and
admirable fact that men have conceived it as quite different according
to their different individual traditions and tastes. But while all have
realised that it was a stable, not so many have realised that it was a
cave. Some critics have even been so silly as to suppose that there was
some contradiction between the stable and the cave; in which case they
cannot know much about caves or stables in Palestine. As they see
differences that are not there, it is needless to add that they do not
see differences that are there. When a well-known critic says, for
instance, that Christ being born in a rocky cavern is like Mithras
having sprung alive out of a rock, it sounds like a parody upon
comparative religion. There is such a thing as the point of a story,
even if it is a story in the sense of a lie. And the notion of a hero
appearing, like Pallas from the brain of Zeus, mature and without a
mother, is obviously the very opposite of the idea of a god being born
like an ordinary baby and entirely dependent on a mother. Whichever
ideal we might prefer, we should surely see that they are contrary
ideals. It is as stupid to connect them because they both contain a
substance called stone as to identify the punishment of the Deluge with
the baptism in the Jordan because they both contain a substance called
water. Whether as a myth or a mystery, Christ was obviously conceived as
born in a hole in the rocks primarily because it marked the position of
one outcast and homeless. Nevertheless it is true, as I have said, that
the cave has not been so commonly or so clearly used as a symbol as the
other realities that surrounded the first Christmas.

And the reason for this also refers to the very nature of that new
world. It was in a sense the difficulty of a new dimension. Christ was
not only born on the level of the world, but even lower than the world.
The first act of the divine drama was enacted, not only on no stage set
up above the sight-seer, but on a dark and curtained stage sunken out of
sight; and that is an idea very difficult to express in most modes of
artistic expression. It is the idea of simultaneous happenings on
different levels of life. Something like it might have been attempted in
the more archaic and decorative medieval art. But the more the artists
learned of realism and perspective, the less they could depict at once
the angels in the heavens and the shepherds on the hills, and the glory
in the darkness that was under the hills. Perhaps it could have been
best conveyed by the characteristic expedient of some of the medieval
guilds, when they wheeled about the streets a theatre with three stages
one above the other, with heaven above the earth and hell under the
earth. But in the riddle of Bethlehem it was heaven that was under the

There is in that alone the touch of a revolution, as of the world turned
upside down. It would be vain to attempt to say anything adequate, or
anything new, about the change which this conception of a deity born
like an outcast or even an outlaw had upon the whole conception of law
and its duties to the poor and outcast. It is profoundly true to say
that after that moment there could be no slaves. There could be and were
people bearing that legal title, until the Church was strong enough to
weed them out, but there could be no more of the pagan repose in the
mere advantage to the state of keeping it a servile state. Individuals
became important, in a sense in which no instruments can be important. A
man could not be a means to an end, at any rate to any other man's end.
All this popular and fraternal element in the story has been rightly
attached by tradition to the episode of the Shepherds; the hinds who
found themselves talking face to face with the princes of heaven. But
there is another aspect of the popular element as represented by the
shepherds which has not perhaps been so fully developed; and which is
more directly relevant here.

Men of the people, like the shepherds, men of the popular tradition, had
everywhere been the makers of the mythologies. It was they who had felt
most directly, with least check or chill from philosophy or the corrupt
cults of civilisation, the need we have already considered; the images
that were adventures of the imagination; the mythology that was a sort
of search; the tempting and tantalising hints of something half-human in
nature; the dumb significance of seasons and special places. They had
best understood that the soul of a landscape is a story and the soul of
a story is a personality. But rationalism had already begun to rot away
these really irrational though imaginative treasures of the peasant;
even as systematic slavery had eaten the peasant out of house and home.
Upon all such peasantries everywhere there was descending a dusk and
twilight of disappointment, in the hour when these few men discovered
what they sought. Everywhere else Arcadia was fading from the forest.
Pan was dead and the shepherds were scattered like sheep. And though no
man knew it, the hour was near which was to end and to fulfil all
things; and though no man heard it, there was one far-off cry in an
unknown tongue upon the heaving wilderness of the mountains. The
shepherds had found their Shepherd.

And the thing they found was of a kind with the things they sought. The
populace had been wrong in many things; but they had not been wrong in
believing that holy things could have a habitation and that divinity
need not disdain the limits of time and space. And the barbarian who
conceived the crudest fancy about the sun being stolen and hidden in a
box, or the wildest myth about the god being rescued and his enemy
deceived with a stone, was nearer to the secret of the cave and knew
more about the crisis of the world, than all those in the circle of
cities round the Mediterranean who had become content with cold
abstractions or cosmopolitan generalisations; than all those who were
spinning thinner and thinner threads of thought out of the
transcendentalism of Plato or the orientalism of Pythagoras. The place
that the shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic, it
was not a place of myths allegorised or dissected or explained or
explained away. It was a place of dreams come true. Since that hour no
mythologies have been made in the world. Mythology is a search.

We all know that the popular presentation of this popular story, in so
many miracle plays and carols, has given to the shepherds the costumes,
the language, and the landscape of the separate English and European
countrysides. We all know that one shepherd will talk in a Somerset
dialect or another talk of driving his sheep from Conway towards Clyde.
Most of us know by this time how true is that error, how wise, how
artistic, how intensely Christian and Catholic is that anachronism. But
some who have seen it in these scenes of medieval rusticity have perhaps
not seen it in another sort of poetry, which it is sometimes the fashion
to call artificial rather than artistic. I fear that many modern critics
will see only a faded classicism in the fact that men like Crashaw and
Herrick conceived the shepherds of Bethlehem under the form of the
shepherds of Virgil. Yet they were profoundly right; and in turning
their Bethlehem play into a Latin Eclogue they took up one of the most
important links in human history. Virgil, as we have already seen, does
stand for all that saner heathenism that had over-thrown the insane
heathenism of human sacrifice; but the very fact that even the Virgilian
virtues and the sane heathenism were in incurable decay is the whole
problem to which the revelation to the shepherds is the solution. If the
world had ever had the chance to grow weary of being demoniac, it might
have been healed merely by becoming sane. But if it had grown weary even
of being sane, what was to happen, except what did happen? Nor is it
false to conceive the Arcadian shepherd of the Eclogues as rejoicing in
what did happen. One of the Eclogues has even been claimed as a prophecy
of what did happen. But it is quite as much in the tone and incidental
diction of the great poet that we feel the potential sympathy with the
great event; and even in their own human phrases the voices of the
Virgilian shepherds might more than once have broken upon more than the
tenderness of Italy `Incipe, parve puer, risu cognoscere matrem' They
might have found in that strange place all that was best in the last
traditions of the Latins; and something better than a wooden idol
standing up for ever for the pillar of the human family; a household
god. But they and all the other mythologists would be justified in
rejoicings that the event had fulfilled not merely the mysticism but the
materialism of mythology. Mythology had many sins; but it had not been
wrong in being as carnal as the Incarnation. But something of the
ancient voice that was supposed to have rung through the graves, it
could cry again, 'We have seen, he hath seen us, a visible god.' So the
ancient shepherds might have danced, and their feet have been beautiful
upon the mountains, rejoicing over the philosophers. But the
philosophers had also heard.

It is still a strange story, though an old one, how they came out of
orient lands, crowned with the majesty of kings and clothed with
something of the mystery of magicians. That truth that is tradition his
wisely remembered them almost as unknown quantities, as mysterious as
their mysterious and melodious names; Melchior. Caspar, Balthazar. But
there came with them all that world of wisdom that had watched the stars
in Chaldea and the sun in Persia; and we shall not be wrong if we see in
them the same curiosity that moves all the sages. They would stand for
the same human ideal if their names had really been Confucius or
Pythagoras or Plato. They were those who sought not tales but the truth
of things, and since their thirst for truth was itself a thirst for God,
they also have had their reward. But even in order to understand that
reward, we must understand that for philosophy as much as mythology,
that reward was the completion of the incomplete.

Such learned men would doubtless have come, as these learned men did
come, to find themselves confirmed in much that was true in their own
traditions and right in their own reasoning. Confucius would have found
a new foundation for the family in the very reversal of the Holy Family;
Buddha would have looked upon a new renunciation, of stars rather than
jewels and divinity than royalty. These learned men would still have the
right to say, or rather a new right to say, that there was truth in
their old teaching. But after all these learned men would have come to
learn. They would have come to complete their conceptions with something
they had not yet conceived; even to balance their imperfect universe
with something they might once have contradicted. Buddha would have come
from his impersonal paradise to worship a person. Confucius would have
come from his temples of ancestor-worship to worship a child.

We must grasp from the first this character in the new cosmos; that it
was larger than the old cosmos. In that sense Christendom is larger than
creation; as creation had been before Christ. It included things that
had not been there; it also included the things that had been there. The
point happens to be well illustrated in this example of Chinese piety,
but it would be true of other pagan virtues or pagan beliefs. Nobody can
doubt that a reasonable respect for parents is part of a gospel in which
God himself was subject in childhood to earthly parents. But the other
sense in which the parents were subject to him does introduce an idea
that is not Confucian. The infant Christ is not like the infant
Confucius; our mysticism conceives him in an immortal infancy. I do not
know what Confucius would have done with the Bambino had it come to life
in his arms as it did in the arms of St. Francis. But this is true in
relation to all the other religions and philosophies; it is the
challenge of the Church. The Church contains what the world does not
contain. Life itself does not provide as she does for all sides of life.
That every other single system is narrow and insufficient compared to
this one; that is not a rhetorical boast; it is a real fact and a real
dilemma. Where is the Holy child amid the Stoics and the
ancestor-worshippers? Where is Our Lady of the Moslems, a woman made for
no man and set above all angels? Where is St. Michael of the monks of
Buddha, rider and master of the trumpets, guarding for every soldier the
honour of the sword? What could St. Thomas Aquinas do with the mythology
of Brahminism, he who set forth all the science and rationality and even
rationalism of Christianity? Yet even if we compare Aquinas with
Aristotle, at the other extreme of reason, we shall find the same sense
of something added. Aquinas could understand the most logical parts of
Aristotle; it is doubtful if Aristotle could have understood the most
mystical parts of Aquinas. Even where we can hardly call the Christian
greater, we are forced to call him larger. But it is so to whatever
philosophy or heresy or modern movement we may turn. How would Francis
the Troubadour have fared among the Calvinists, or for that matter among
the Utilitarians of the Manchester School? Yet men like Bossuet and
Pascal could be as stern and logical as any Calvinist or Utilitarian.
How would St. Joan of Arc, a woman waving on men to war with the sword,
have fared among the Quakers or the Doukhabors or the Tolstoyan sect of
pacifists? Yet any number of Catholic saints have spent their lives in
preaching peace and preventing wars. It is the same with all the modern
attempts at Syncretism. They are never able to make something larger
than the Creed without leaving something out. I do not mean leaving out
something divine but something human; the flag or the inn or the boy's
tale of battle or the hedge at the end of the field. The Theosophists
build a pantheon; but it is only a pantheon for pantheists. They call a
Parliament of Religions as a reunion of all the peoples; but it is only
a reunion of all the prigs. Yet exactly such a pantheon had been set up
two thousand years before by the shores of the Mediterranean; and
Christians were invited to set up the image of Jesus side by side with
the image of Jupiter, of Mithras, of Osiris, of Atys, or of Ammon. It
was the refusal of the Christians that was the turning-point of history.
If the Christians had accepted, they and the whole world would have
certainly, in a grotesque but exact metaphor, gone to pot. They would
all have been boiled down to one lukewarm liquid in that great pot of
cosmopolitan corruption in which all the other myths and mysteries were
already melting. It was an awful and an appalling escape. Nobody
understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed
descending from antiquity, who does not realise that the whole world
once very nearly died of broadmindedness and the brotherhood of all

Here it is the important point that the Magi, who stand for mysticism
and philosophy, are truly conceived as seeking something new and even as
finding something unexpected. That tense sense of crisis which still
tingles in the Christmas story and even in every Christmas celebration,
accentuates the idea of a search and a discovery. The discovery is, in
this case, truly a scientific discovery. For the other mystical figures
in the miracle play; for the angel and the mother, the shepherds and the
soldiers of Herod, there may be aspects both simpler and more
supernatural, more elemental or more emotional. But the wise Men must be
seeking wisdom, and for them there must be a light also in the
intellect. And this is the light; that the Catholic creed is catholic
and that nothing else is catholic. The philosophy of the Church is
universal. The philosophy of the philosophers was not universal. Had
Plato and Pythagoras and Aristotle stood for an instant in the light
that came out of that little cave, they would have known that their own
light was not universal. It is far from certain, indeed, that they did
not know it already. Philosophy also, like mythology, had very much the
air of a search. It is the realisation of this truth that gives its
traditional majesty and mystery to the figures of the Three Kings; the
discovery that religion is broader than philosophy and that this is the
broadest of religions, contained within this narrow space. The Magicians
were gazing at the strange pentacle with the human triangle reversed;
and they have never come to the end of their calculations about it. For
it is the paradox of that group in the cave, that while our emotions
about it are of childish simplicity, our thoughts about it can branch
with a never-ending complexity. And we can never reach the end even of
our own ideas about the child who was a father and the mother who was a

We might well be content to say that mythology had come with the
shepherds and philosophy with the philosophers; and that it only
remained for them to combine in the recognisation of religion. But there
was a third element that must not be ignored and one which that religion
for ever refuses to ignore, in any revel or reconciliation. There was
present in the primary scenes of the drama that Enemy that had rotted
the legends with lust and frozen theories into atheism, but which
answered the direct challenge with something of that more direct method
which we have seen in the conscious cult of the demons. In the
description of that demon-worship, of the devouring detestation of
innocence shown in the works of its witchcraft and the most inhuman of
its human sacrifice, I have said less of its incorrect and secret
penetration of the saner paganism; the soaking of mythological
imagination with sex; the rise of imperial pride into insanity. But both
the indirect and the direct influence make themselves felt in the drama
of Bethlehem. A ruler under the Roman suzerainty, probably equipped and
surrounded with the Roman ornament and order though himself of eastern
blood, seems in that hour to have felt stirring within him the spirit of
strange things. We all know the story of how Herod, alarmed at some
rumour of a mysterious rival, remembered the wild gesture of the
capricious despots of Asia and ordered a massacre of suspects of the new
generation of the populace. Everyone knows the story; but not everyone
has perhaps noted its place in the story of the strange religions of
men. Not everybody has seen the significance even of its very contrast
with the Corinthian columns and Roman pavement of that conquered and
superficially civilised world. Only, as the purpose in his dark spirit
began to show and shine in the eyes of the Idumean, a seer might perhaps
have seen something like a great grey ghost that looked over his
shoulder; have seen behind him filling the dome of night and hovering
for the last time over history, that vast and fearful face that was
Moloch of the Carthaginians; awaiting his last tribute from a ruler of
the races of Shem. The demons also, in that first festival of Christmas,
feasted after their own fashion.

Unless we understand the presence of that enemy, we shall not only miss
the point of Christianity, but even miss the point of Christmas.
Christmas for us in Christendom has become one thing, and in one sense
even a simple thing. But like all the truths of that tradition, it is in
another sense a very complex thing. Its unique note is the simultaneous
striking of many notes; of humility, of gaiety, of gratitude, of
mystical fear, but also of vigilance and of drama. It is not only an
occasion for the peacemakers any more than for the merry-makers; it is
not only a Hindu peace conference any more than it is only a
Scandinavian winter feast. There is something defiant in it also;
something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great
guns of a battle that has just been won. All this indescribable thing
that we call the Christmas atmosphere only hangs in the air as something
like a lingering fragrance or fading vapour from the exultant explosion
of that one hour in the Judean hills nearly two thousand years ago. But
the savour is still unmistakable, and it is something too subtle or too
solitary to be covered by our use of the word peace. By the very nature
of the story the rejoicings in the cavern were rejoicings in a fortress
or an outlaw's den; properly understood it is not unduly flippant to say
they were rejoicings in a dug-out. It is not only true that such a
subterranean chamber was a hiding-place from enemies; and that the
enemies were already scouring the stony plain that lay above it like a
sky. It is not only that the very horse-hoofs of Herod might in that
sense have passed like thunder over the sunken head of Christ. It is
also that there is in that image a true idea of an outpost, of a
piercing through the rock and an entrance into an enemy territory. There
is in this buried divinity an idea of undermining the world; of shaking
the towers and palaces from below; even as Herod the great king felt
that earthquake under him and swayed with his swaying palace.

That is perhaps the mightiest of the mysteries of the cave It is already
apparent that though men are said to have looked for hell under the
earth, in this case it is rather heaven that is under the earth And
there follows in this strange story the idea of an upheaval of heaven.
That is the paradox of the whole position; that henceforth the highest
thing can only work from below. Royalty can only return to its own by a
sort of rebellion. Indeed the Church from its beginnings, and perhaps
especially in its beginnings, was not so much a principality as a
revolution against the prince of the world. This sense that the world
had been conquered by the great usurper, and was in his possession, has
been much deplored or derided by those optimists who identify
enlightenment with ease. But it was responsible for all that thrill of
defiance and a beautiful danger that made the good news seem to be
really both good and new. It was in truth against a huge unconscious
usurpation that it raised a revolt, and originally so obscure a revolt.
Olympus still occupied the sky like a motionless cloud moulded into many
mighty forms; philosophy still sat in the high places and even on the
thrones of the kings, when Christ was born in the cave and Christianity
in the catacombs. In both cases we may remark the same paradox of
revolution; the sense of something despised and of something feared The
cave in one aspect is only a hole or corner into which the outcasts are
swept like rubbish; yet in the other aspect it is a hiding-place of
something valuable which the tyrants are seeking like treasure. In one
sense they are there because the innkeeper would not even remember them,
and in another because the king can never forget them. We have already
noted that this paradox appeared also in the treatment of the early
Church. It was important while it was still insignificant, and certainly
while it was still impotent. It was important solely because it was
intolerable; and in that sense it is true to say that it was intolerable
because it was intolerant. It was resented, because, in its own still
and almost secret way, it had declared war. It had risen out of the
ground to wreck the heaven and earth of heathenism. It did not try to
destroy all that creation of gold and marble; but it contemplated a
world without it. It dared to look right through it as though the gold
and marble had been glass. Those who charged the Christians with burning
down Rome with firebrands were slanderers; but they were at least far
nearer to the nature of Christianity than those among the moderns who
tell us that the Christians were a sort of ethical society, being
martyred in a languid fashion for telling men they had a duty to their
neighbors, and only mildly disliked because they were meek and mild.

Herod had his place, therefore, in the miracle play of Bethlehem because
he is the menace to the Church Militant and shows it from the first as
under persecution and fighting for its life. For those who think this a
discord, it is a discord that sounds simultaneously with the Christmas
bells. For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils
the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the
Cross is spoiled; the idea of the cross is spoiled quite literally in
the cradle. It is not here to the purpose to argue with them on the
abstract ethics of fighting; the purpose in this place is merely to sum
up the combination of ideas that make up the Christian and Catholic
idea, and to note that all of them are already crystallised in the first
Christmas story. They are three distinct and commonly contrasted things
which are nevertheless one thing; but this is the only thing which can
make them one. The first is the human instinct for a heaven that shall
be as literal and almost as local as a home. It is the idea pursued by
all poets and pagans making myths; that a particular place must be the
shrine of the god or the abode of the blest; that fairyland is a land;
or that the return of the ghost must be the resurrection of the body. I
do not here reason about the refusal of rationalism to satisfy this
need. I only say that if the rationalists refuse to satisfy it, the
pagans will not be satisfied. This is present in the story of Bethlehem
and Jerusalem as it is present in the story of Delos and Delphi; and as
it is not present in the whole universe of Lucretius or the whole
universe of Herbert Spencer. The second element is a philosophy larger
than other philosophies; larger than that of Lucretius and infinitely
larger than that of Herbert Spencer. It looks at the world through a
hundred windows where the ancient stoic or the modern agnostic only
looks through one. It sees life with thousands of eyes belonging to
thousands of different sorts of people, where the other is only the
individual standpoint of a stoic or an agnostic. It has something for
all moods of man, it finds work for all kinds of men, it understands
secrets of psychology, it is aware of depths of evil, it is able to
distinguish between ideal and unreal marvels and miraculous exceptions,
it trains itself in tact about hard cases, all with a multiplicity and
subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond
the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern moral
philosophy. In a word, there is more in it; it finds more in existence
to think about; it gets more out of life. Masses of this material about
our many-sided life have been added since the time of St. Thomas
Aquinas. But St. Thomas Aquinas alone would have found himself limited
in the world of Confucius or of Comte. And the third point is this; that
while it is local enough for poetry and larger than any other
philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately
broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly
embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to
fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its
knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art
of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It
proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven.

This is the trinity of truths symbolised here by the three types in the
old Christmas story; the shepherds and the kings and that other king who
warred upon the children. It is simply not true to say that other
religions and philosophies are in this respect its rivals. It is not
true to say that any one of them combines these characters; it is not
true to say that any one of them pretends to combine them. Buddhism may
profess to be equally mystical; it does not even profess to be equally
military. Islam may profess to be equally military; it does not even
profess to be equally metaphysical and subtle. Confucianism may profess
to satisfy the need of the philosophers for order and reason; it does
not even profess to satisfy the need of the mystics for miracle and
sacrament and the consecration of concrete things. There are many
evidences of this presence of a spirit at once universal and unique. One
will serve here which is the symbol of the subject of this chapter; that
no other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical
event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even
poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth
of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything
like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal
and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated.
Not one of us, whatever his opinions, would ever go to such a scene with
the sense that he was going home. He might admire it because it was
poetical, or because it was philosophical, or any number of other things
in separation; but not because it was itself. The truth is that there is
a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story
on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a
mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the
ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and
exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by
the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards,
adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It
is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and
personal part of our being; like that which can some times take us off
our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the
poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart
of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from
within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that
betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call
strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in
that winged levity with which they brush us and pass. It is all that is
in us but a brief tenderness that is there made eternal; all that means
no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion
become a strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the
lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange
kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the
feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold
upon fold over something more human than humanity.

* * *



To understand the nature of this chapter, it is necessary to recur
to the nature of this book.  The argument which is meant to be the
backbone of the book is of the kind called the reductio ad absurdum.
It suggests that the results of assuming the rationalist thesis are
more irrational than ours; but to prove it we must assume that thesis.
Thus in the first section I often treated man as merely an animal,
to show that the effect was more impossible than if he were treated
as an angel.  In the sense in which it was necessary to treat man
merely as an animal, it is necessary to treat Christ merely as a man.
I have to suspend my own beliefs, which are much more positive; and assume
this limitation even in order to remove it.  I must try to imagine
what would happen to a man who did really read the story of Christ as
the story of a man; and even of a man of whom he had never heard before.
And I wish to point out that a really impartial reading of that kind
would lead, if not immediately to belief, at least to a bewilderment
of which there is really no solution except in belief.  In this chapter,
for this reason, I shall bring in nothing of the spirit of my own creed;
I shall exclude the very style of diction, and even of lettering,
which I should think fitting in speaking in my own person.
I am speaking as an imaginary heathen human being, honestly, staring at
the Gospel story for the first time.

Now it is not at all easy to regard the New Testament as a New
Testament. It is not at all easy to realise the good news as new. Both
for good and evil familiarity fills us with assumptions and
associations; and no man of our civilisation, whatever he thinks of our
religion, can really read the thing as if he had never heard of it
before. Of course it is in any case utterly unhistorical to talk as if
the New Testament were a neatly bound book that had fallen from heaven.
It is simply the selection made by the authority of the Church from a
mass of early Christian literature. But apart from any such question
there is a psychological difficulty in feeling the New Testament as new.
There is a psychological difficulty in seeing those well-known words
simply as they stand and without going beyond what they intrinsically
stand for. And this difficulty must indeed be very great; for the result
of it is very curious. The result of it is that most modern critics and
most current criticism, even popular criticism, makes a comment that is
the exact reverse of the truth. It is so completely the reverse of the
truth that one could almost suspect that they had never read the New
Testament at all.

We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never
to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a
most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has
hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with
ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This
is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth
is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost
entirely mild and merciful. It is the image of Christ in the Gospels
that is a good many other things as well. The figure in the Gospels does
indeed utter in words of almost heart-breaking beauty his pity for our
broken hearts. But they are very far from being the only sort of words
that he utters. Nevertheless they are almost the only kind of words that
the Church in its popular imagery ever represents him as uttering. That
popular imagery is inspired by a perfectly sound popular instinct. The
mass of the poor are broken, and the mass of the people are poor, and
for the mass of mankind the main thing is to carry the conviction of the
incredible compassion of God. But nobody with his eyes open can doubt
that it is chiefly this idea of compassion that the popular machinery of
the Church does seek to carry. The popular imagery carries a great deal
to excess the sentiment of 'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.' It is the
first thing that the outsider feels and criticises in a Pieta or a
shrine of the Sacred Heart. As I say, while the art may be insufficient,
I am not sure that the instinct is unsound. In any case there is
something appalling, something that makes the blood run cold, in the
idea of having a statue of Christ in wrath. There is something
insupportable even to the imagination in the idea of turning the corner
of a street or coming out into the spaces of a marketplace, to meet the
petrifying petrifaction of that figure as it turned upon a generation of
vipers, or that face as it looked at the face of a hypocrite. The Church
can reasonably be justified therefore if she turns the most merciful
face or aspect towards men; but it is certainly the most merciful aspect
that she does turn. And the point is here that it is very much more
specially and exclusively merciful than any impression that could be
formed by a man merely reading the New Testament for the first time. A
man simply taking the words of the story as they stand would form quite
another impression; an impression full of mystery and possibly of
inconsistency; but certainly not merely an impression of mildness. It
would be intensely interesting; but part of the interest would consist
in its leaving a good deal to be guessed at or explained. It is full of
sudden gestures evidently significant except that we hardly know what
they signify, of enigmatic silences; of ironical replies. The outbreaks
of wrath, like storms above our atmosphere, do not seem to break out
exactly where we should expect them, but to follow some higher
weather-chart of their own. The Peter whom popular Church teaching
presents is very rightly the Peter to whom Christ said in forgiveness,
'Feed my lambs.' He is not the Peter upon whom Christ turned as if he
were the devil, crying in that obscure wrath, 'Get thee behind me,
Satan.' Christ lamented with nothing but love and pity over Jerusalem
which was to murder him. We do not know what strange spiritual
atmosphere or spiritual insight led him to sink Bethsaida lower in the
pit than Sodom. I am putting aside for the moment all questions of
doctrinal inferences or expositions, orthodox or otherwise; I am simply
imagining the effect on a man's mind if he did really do what these
critics are always talking about doing; if he did really read the New
Testament without reference to orthodoxy and even without reference to
doctrine. He would find a number of things which fit in far less with
the current unorthodoxy than they do with the current orthodoxy. He
would find, for instance, that if there are any descriptions that
deserved to be called realistic, they are precisely the descriptions of
the supernatural. If there is one aspect of the New Testament Jesus in
which he may be said to present himself eminently as a practical person,
it is in the aspect of an exorcist. There is nothing meek and mild,
there is nothing even in the ordinary sense mystical, about the tone of
the voice that says 'Hold thy peace and come out of him.' It is much
more like the tone of a very business-like lion-tamer or a strong-minded
doctor dealing with a homicidal maniac. But this is only a side issue
for the sake of illustration; I am not now raising these controversies;
but considering the case of the imaginary man from the moon to whom the
New Testament is new.

Now the first thing to note is that if we take it merely as a human
story, it is in some ways a very strange story. I do not refer here to
its tremendous and tragic culmination or to any implications involving
triumph in that tragedy. I do not refer to what is commonly called the
miraculous element; for on that point philosophies vary and modern
philosophies very decidedly waver. Indeed the educated Englishman of
to-day may be said to have passed from an old fashion, in which he would
not believe in any miracles unless they were ancient, and adopted a new
fashion in which he will not believe in any miracles unless they are
modern. He used to hold that miraculous cures stopped with the first
Christians and is now inclined to suspect that they began with the first
Christian Scientists. But I refer here rather specially to unmiraculous
and even to unnoticed and inconspicuous parts of the story. There are a
great many things about it which nobody would have invented, for they
are things that nobody has ever made any particular use of; things which
if they were remarked at all have remained rather as puzzles. For
instance, there is that long stretch of silence in the life of Christ up
to the age of thirty. It is of all silences the most immense and
imaginatively impressive. But it is not the sort of thing that anybody
is particularly likely to invent in order to prove something; and no
body so far as I know has ever tried to prove anything in particular
from it. It is impressive, but it is only impressive as a fact; there is
nothing particularly popular or obvious about it as a fable. The
ordinary trend of hero-worship and myth-making is much more likely to
say the precise opposite. It is much more likely to say (as I believe
some of the gospels rejected by the Church do say) that Jesus displayed
a divine precocity and began his mission at a miraculously early age.
And there is indeed something strange in the thought that he who of all
humanity needed least preparation seems to have had most. Whether it was
some mode of the divine humility, or some truth of which we see the
shadow of the longer domestic tutelage of the higher creatures of the
earth. I do not propose to speculate; I mention it simply as an example
of the sort of thing that does in any case give rise to speculations,
quite apart from recognised religious speculations. Now the whole story
is full of these things. It is not by any means, as baldly presented in
print, a story that it is easy to get to the bottom of. It is anything
but what these people talk of as a simple Gospel. Relatively speaking,
it is the Gospel that has the mysticism and the Church that has the
rationalism. As I should put it, of course, it is the Gospel that is the
riddle and the Church that is the answer. But whatever be the answer,
the Gospel as it stands is almost a book of riddles.

First, a man reading the Gospel sayings would not find platitudes. If he
had read even in the most respectful spirit the majority of ancient
philosophers and of modern moralists, he would appreciate the unique
importance of saying that he did not find platitudes. It is more than
can be said even of Plato. It is much more than can be said of Epictetus
or Seneca or Marcus Aurelius or Apollonius of Tyana. And it is
immeasurably more than can be said of most of the agnostic moralists and
the preachers of the ethical societies; with their songs of service and
their religion of brotherhood. The morality of most moralists ancient
and modern, has been one solid and polished cataract of platitudes
flowing for ever and ever. That would certainly not be the impression of
the imaginary independent outsider studying the New Testament. He would
be conscious of nothing so commonplace and in a sense of nothing so
continuous as that stream. He would find a number of strange claims that
might sound like the claim to be the brother of the sun and moon; a
number of very startling pieces of advice; a number of stunning rebukes;
a number of strangely beautiful stories. He would see some very
gigantesque figures of speech about the impossibility of threading a
needle with a camel or the possibility of throwing a mountain into the
sea. He would see a number of very daring simplifications of the
difficulties of life; like the advice to shine upon everybody
indifferently as does the sunshine or not to worry about the future any
more than the birds. He would find on the other hand some passages of
almost impenetrable darkness, so far as he is concerned, such as the
moral of the parable of the Unjust Steward. Some of these things might
strike him as fables and some as truths; but none as truisms. For
instance, he would not find the ordinary platitudes in favour of peace.
He would find several paradoxes in favour of peace. He would find
several ideals of non-resistance, which taken as they stand would be
rather too pacific for any pacifist. He would be told in one passage to
treat a robber not with passive resistance, but rather with positive and
enthusiastic encouragement, if the terms be taken literally; heaping up
gifts upon the man who had stolen goods. But he would not find a word of
all that obvious rhetoric against war which has filled countless books
and odes and orations; not a word about the wickedness of war, the
wastefulness of war, the appalling scale of the slaughter in war and all
the rest of the familiar frenzy; indeed not a word about war at all.
There is nothing that throws any particular light on Christ's attitude
towards organised warfare, except that he seems to have been rather fond
of Roman soldiers. Indeed it is another perplexity, speaking from the
same external and human stand point, that he seems to have got on much
better with Romans than he did with Jews. But the question here is a
certain tone to be appreciated by merely reading a certain text; and we
might give any number of instances of it.

The statement that the meek shall inherit the earth is very far from
being a meek statement. I mean it is not meek in the ordinary sense of
mild and moderate and inoffensive. To justify it, it would be necessary
to go very deep into history and anticipate things undreamed of then and
by many unrealised even now; such as the way in which the mystical monks
reclaimed the lands which the practical kings had lost. If it was a
truth at all, it was because it was a prophecy. But certainly it was not
a truth in the sense of a truism. The blessing upon the meek would seem
to be a very violent statement; in the sense of doing violence to reason
and probability. And with this we come to another important stage in the
speculation. As a prophecy it really was fulfilled; but it was only
fulfilled long afterwards. The monasteries were the most practical and
prosperous estates and experiments in reconstruction after the barbaric
deluge; the meek did really inherit the earth. But nobody could have
known anything of the sort at the time--unless indeed there was one who
knew. Something of the same thing may be said about the incident of
Martha and Mary; which has been interpreted in retrospect and from the
inside by the mystics of the Christian contemplative life. But it was
not at all an obvious view of it; and most moralists, ancient and
modern, could be trusted to make a rush for the obvious. What torrents
of effortless eloquence would have flowed from them to swell any slight
superiority on the part of Martha; what splendid sermons about the Joy
of Service and the Gospel of Work and the World Left Better Than We
Found It, and generally all the ten thousand platitudes that can be
uttered in favour of taking trouble--by people who need take no trouble
to utter them. If in Mary the mystic and child of love Christ was
guarding the seed of something more subtle, who was likely to understand
it at the time? Nobody else could have seen Clare and Catherine and
Teresa shining above the little roof at Bethany. It is so in another way
with that magnificent menace about bringing into the world a sword to
sunder and divide. Nobody could have guessed then either how it could be
fulfilled or how it could be justified. Indeed some freethinkers are
still so simple as to fall into the trap and be shocked at a phrase so
deliberately defiant. They actually complain of the paradox for not
being a platitude.

But the point here is that if we could read the Gospel reports as things
as new as newspaper reports, they would puzzle us and perhaps terrify us
much more than the same things as developed by historical Christianity.
For instance, Christ after a clear allusion to the eunuchs of eastern
courts, said there would be eunuchs of the kingdom of heaven. If this
does not mean the voluntary enthusiasm of virginity, it could only be
made to mean something much more unnatural or uncouth. It is the
historical religion that humanises it for us by experience of
Franciscans or of Sisters of Mercy. The mere statement standing by
itself might very well suggest a rather dehumanised atmosphere; the
sinister and inhuman silence of the Asiatic harem and divan. This is but
one instance out of scores; but the moral is that the Christ of the
Gospel might actually seem more strange and terrible than the Christ of
the Church.

I am dwelling on the dark or dazzling or defiant or mysterious side of
the Gospel words, not because they had not obviously a more obvious and
popular side, but because this is the answer to a common criticism on a
vital point. The freethinker frequently says that Jesus of Nazareth was
a man of his time, even if he was in advance of his time; and that we
cannot accept his ethics as final for humanity. The freethinker then
goes on to criticise his ethics, saying plausibly enough that men cannot
turn the other cheek, or that they must take thought for the morrow, or
that the self-denial is too ascetic or the monogamy too severe. But the
Zealots and the Legionaries did not turn the other cheek any more than
we do, if so much. The Jewish traders and Roman tax-gatherers took
thought for the morrow as much as we, if not more. We cannot pretend to
be abandoning the morality of the past for one more suited to the
present. It is certainly not the morality of another age, but it might
be of another world.

In short, we can say that these ideals are impossible in themselves.
Exactly what we cannot say is that they are impossible for us. They are
rather notably marked by a mysticism which, if it be a sort of madness,
would always have struck the same sort of people as mad. Take, for
instance, the case of marriage and the relations of the sexes. It might
very well have been true that a Galilean teacher taught things natural
to a Galilean environment; but it is not. It might rationally be
expected that a man in the time of Tiberius would have advanced a view
conditioned by the time of Tiberius; but he did not. What he advanced
was something quite different; something very difficult; but something
no more difficult now than it was then. When, for instance, Mahomet made
his polygamous compromise we may reasonably say that it was conditioned
by a polygamous society. When he allowed a man four wives he was really
doing something suited to the circumstances, which might have been less
suited to other circumstances. Nobody will pretend that the four wives
were like the four winds, something seemingly a part of the order of
nature; nobody will say that the figure four was written for ever in
stars upon the sky But neither will anyone say that the figure four is
an inconceivable ideal; that it is beyond the power of the mind of man
to count up to four; or to count the number of his wives and see whether
it amounts to four. It is a practical compromise carrying with it the
character of a particular society. If Mahomet had been born in Acton in
the nineteenth century, we may well doubt whether he would instantly
have filled that suburb with harems of four wives apiece. As he was born
in Arabia in the sixth century, he did in his conjugal arrangements
suggest the conditions of Arabia in the sixth century. But Christ in his
view of marriage does not in the least suggest the conditions of
Palestine of the first century. He does not suggest anything at all,
except the sacramental view of marriage as developed long afterwards by
the Catholic Church. It was quite as difficult for people then as for
people now. It was much more puzzling to people then than to people now.
Jews and Romans and Greeks did not believe, and did not even understand
enough to disbelieve, the mystical idea that the man and the woman had
become one sacramental substance. We may think it an incredible or
impossible ideal; but we cannot think it any more incredible or
impossible than they would have thought it. In other words, whatever
else is true, it is not true that the controversy has been altered by
time. Whatever else is true, it is emphatically not true that the ideas
of Jesus of Nazareth were suitable to his time, but are no longer
suitable to our time. Exactly how suitable they we to his time is
perhaps suggested in the end of his story.

The same truth might be stated in another way by saying that if the
story be regarded as merely human and historical, it is extraordinary
how very little there is in the recorded words of Christ that ties him
at all to his own time. I do not mean the details of a period, which
even a man of the period knows to be passing. I mean the fundamentals
which even the wisest man often vaguely assumes to be eternal. For
instance, Aristotle was perhaps the wisest and most wide-minded man who
ever lived. He founded himself entirely upon fundamentals, which have
been generally found to remain rational and solid through all social and
historical changes. Still, he lived in a world in which it was thought
as natural to have slaves as to have children. And therefore he did
permit himself a serious recognition of a difference between slaves and
free men. Christ as much as Aristotle lived in a world that took slavery
for granted. He did not particularly denounce slavery. He started a
movement that could exist in a world with slavery. But he started a
movement that could exist in a world without slavery. He never used a
phrase that made his philosophy depend even upon the very existence of
the social order in which he lived. He spoke as one conscious that
everything was ephemeral, including the things that Aristotle thought
eternal. By that time the Roman Empire had come to be merely the orbis
terrarum, another name for the world. But he never made his morality
dependent on the existence of the Roman Empire or even on the existence
of the world. 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not
pass away.'

The truth is that when critics have spoken of the local limitations of
the Galilean, it has always been a case of the local limitations of the
critics. He did undoubtedly believe in certain things that one
particular modern sect of materialists do not believe. But they were not
things particularly peculiar to his time. It would be nearer the truth
to say that the denial of them is quite peculiar to our time. Doubtless
it would be nearer still to the truth to say merely that a certain
solemn social importance, in the minority disbelieving them, is peculiar
to our time. He believed, for instance, in evil spirits or in the
psychic healing of bodily ills; but not because he was a Galilean born
under Augustus. It is absurd to say that a man believed things because
he was a Galilean under Augustus when he might have believed the same
things if he had been an Egyptian under Tutenkamen or an Indian under
Gengis Khan. But with this general question of the philosophy of
diabolism or of divine miracles I deal elsewhere. It is enough to say
that the materialists have to prove the impossibility of miracles
against the testimony of all mankind, not against the prejudices of
provincials in North Palestine under the first Roman Emperors. What they
have to prove, for the present argument, is the presence in the Gospels
of those particular prejudices of those particular provincials. And,
humanly speaking, it is astonishing how little they can produce even to
make a beginning of proving it.

So it is in this case of the sacrament of marriage. We may not believe
in sacraments, as we may not believe in spirits, but it is quite clear
that Christ believed in this sacrament in his own way and not in any
current or contemporary way. He certainly did not get his argument
against divorce from the Mosaic law or the Roman law or the habits of
the Palestinian people. It would appear to his critics then exactly what
it appears to his critics now; an arbitrary and transcendental dogma
coming from nowhere save in the sense that it came from him. I am not at
all concerned here to defend that dogma; the point here is that it is
just as easy to defend it now as it was to defend it then. It is an
ideal altogether outside time; difficult at any period; impossible at no
period. In other words, if anyone says it is what might be expected of a
man walking about in that place at that period, we can quite fairly
answer that it is much more like what might be the mysterious utterance
of a being beyond man, if he walked alive among men.

I maintain therefore that a man reading the New Testament frankly and
freshly would not get the impression of what is now often meant by a
human Christ. The merely human Christ is a made-up figure, a piece of
artificial selection, like the merely evolutionary man. Moreover there
have been too many of these human Christs found in the same story, just
as there have been too many keys to mythology found in the same stories.
Three or four separate schools of rationalism have worked over the
ground and produced three or four equally rational explanations of his
life. The first rational explanation of his life was that he never
lived. And this in turn gave an opportunity for three or four different
explanations, as that he was a sun-myth or a corn-myth, or any other
kind of myth that is also a monomania. Then the idea that he was a
divine being who did not exist gave place to the idea that he was a
human being who did exist. In my youth it vas the fashion to say that he
was merely an ethical teacher in the manner of the Essenes, who had
apparently nothing very much to say that Hillel or a hundred other Jews
might not have said; as that it is a kindly thing to be kind and an
assistance to purification to be pure. Then somebody said he was a
madman with a Messianic delusion. Then others said he was indeed an
original teacher because he cared about nothing but Socialism; or (as
others said) about nothing but Pacifism. Then a more grimly scientific
character appeared who said that Jesus would never have been heard of at
all except for his prophecies of the end of the world. He was important
merely as a Millenarian like Dr. Cumming; and created a provincial scare
by announcing the exact date of the crack of doom. Among other variants
on the same theme was the theory that he was a spiritual healer and
nothing else; a view implied by Christian Science, which has really to
expound a Christianity without the Crucifixion in order to explain the
curing of Peter's wife's mother or the daughter of a centurion. There is
another theory that concentrates entirely on the business of diabolism
and what it would call the contemporary superstition about demoniacs, as
if Christ, like a young deacon taking his first orders, had got as far
as exorcism and never got any further. Now, each of these explanations
in itself seems to me singularly inadequate; but taken together they do
suggest something of the very mystery which they miss. There must surely
have been something not only mysterious but many-sided about Christ if
so many smaller Christs can be carved out of him. If the Christian
Scientist is satisfied with him as a spiritual healer and the Christian
Socialist is satisfied with him as a social reformer, so satisfied that
they do not even expect him to be anything else, it looks as if he
really covered rather more ground than they could be expected to expect.
And it does seem to suggest that there might be more than they fancy in
these other mysterious attributes of casting out devils or prophesying

Above all, would not such a new reader of the New Testament stumble over
something that would startle him much more than it startles us? I have
here more than once attempted the rather impossible task of reversing
time and the historic method; and in fancy looking forward to the facts,
instead of backward through the memories. So I have imagined the monster
that man might have seemed at first to the mere nature around him. We
should have a worse shock if we really imagined the nature of Christ
named for the first time. What should we feel at the first whisper of a
certain suggestion about a certain man? Certainly it is not for us to
blame anybody who should find that first wild whisper merely impious and
insane. On the contrary, stumbling on that rock of scandal is the first
step. Stark staring incredulity is a far more loyal tribute to that
truth than a modernist metaphysic that would make it out merely a matter
of degree. It were better to rend our robes with a great cry against
blasphemy, like Caiaphas in the judgement, or to lay hold of the man as
a maniac possessed of devils like the kinsmen and the crowd, rather than
to stand stupidly debating fine shades of pantheism in the presence of
so catastrophic a claim. There is more of the wisdom that is one with
surprise in any simple person, full of the sensitiveness of simplicity,
who should expect the grass to wither and the birds to drop dead out of
the air, when a strolling carpenter's apprentice said calmly and almost
carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder: 'Before Abraham was, I

* * *



In the last chapter I have deliberately stressed what seems to be
nowadays a neglected side of the New Testament story, but nobody will
suppose, I imagine, that it is meant to obscure that side that may truly
be called human. That Christ was and is the most merciful of judges and
the most sympathetic of friends is a fact of considerably more
importance in our own private lives than in anybody's historical
speculations. But the purpose of this book is to point out that
something unique has been swamped in cheap generalisations; and for that
purpose it is relevant to insist that even what was most universal was
also most original. For instance, we might take a topic which really is
sympathetic to the modern mood, as the ascetic vocations recently
referred to are not. The exaltation of childhood is something which we
do really understand; but it was by no means a thing that was then in
that sense understood. If we wanted an example of the originality of the
Gospels we could hardly take a stronger or more startling one. Nearly
two thousand years afterwards we happen to find ourselves in a mood that
does really feel the mystical charm of the child; we express it in
romances and regrets about childhood, in Peter Pan or The Child's Garden
of verses. And we can say of the words of Christ with so angry an
anti-Christian as Swinburne:--

'No sign that ever was given
To faithful or faithless eyes
Showed ever beyond clouds riven
So clear a paradise.

Earth's creeds may be seventy times seven
And blood have defiled each creed
But if such be the kingdom of heaven
It must be heaven indeed.'

But that paradise was not clear until Christianity had gradually cleared
it. The pagan world, as such, would not have understood any such thing
as a serious suggestion that a child is higher or holier than a man. It
would have seemed like the suggestion that a tadpole is higher or holier
than a frog. To the merely rationalistic mind, it would sound like
saying that a bud must be more beautiful than a flower or that an unripe
apple must be better than a ripe one. In other words, this modern
feeling is an entirely mystical feeling. It is quite as mystical as the
cult of virginity; in fact it is the cult of virginity. But pagan
antiquity had much more idea of the holiness of the virgin than of the
holiness of the child. For various reasons we have come nowadays to
venerate children, perhaps partly because we envy children for still
doing what men used to do; such as play simple games and enjoy
fairy-tales. Over and above this, however, there is a great deal of real
and subtle psychology in our appreciation of childhood; but if we turn
it into a modern discovery, we must once more admit that the historical
Jesus of Nazareth had already discovered it two thousand years too soon.
There was certainly nothing in the world around him to help him to the
discovery. Here Christ was indeed human; but more human than a human
being was then likely to be. Peter Pan does not belong to the world of
Pan but the world of Peter.

Even in the matter of mere literary style, if we suppose ourselves thus
sufficiently detached to look at it in that light, there is a curious
quality to which no critic seems to have done justice. It had among
other things a singular air of piling tower upon tower by the use of the
a fortiori; making a pagoda of degrees like the seven heavens. I have
already noted that almost inverted imaginative vision which pictured the
impossible penance of the Cities of the Plain. There is perhaps nothing
so perfect in all language or literature as the use of these three
degrees in the parable of the lilies of the field; in which he seems
first to take one small flower in his hand and note its simplicity and
even its impotence; then suddenly expands it in flamboyant colours into
all the palaces and pavilions full of a great name in national legend
and national glory; and then, by yet a third overturn, shrivels into
nothing once more with a gesture as if flinging it away ``and if God so
clothes the grass that today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven--how
much more'' It is like the building of a good Babel tower by white magic
in a moment and in the movement of a hand; a tower heaved suddenly up to
heaven on the top of which can be seen afar off, higher than we had
fancied possible, the figure of man; lifted by three infinities above
all other things, on a starry ladder of light logic and swift
imagination. Merely in a literary sense it would be more of a
masterpiece than most of the masterpieces in the libraries; yet it seems
to have been uttered almost at random while a man might pull a flower.
But merely in a literary sense also, this use of the comparative in
several degrees has about it a quality which seems to me to hint of much
higher things than the modern suggestion of the simple teaching of
pastoral or communal ethics. There is nothing that really indicates a
subtle and in the true sense a superior mind so much as this power of
comparing a lower thing with a higher and yet that higher with a higher
still; of thinking on three planes at once. There is nothing that wants
the rarest sort of wisdom so much as to see, let us say, that the
citizen is higher than the slave and yet that the soul is infinitely
higher than the citizen or the city. It is not by any means a faculty
that commonly belongs to these simplifiers of the Gospel; those who
insist on what they call a simple morality and others call a sentimental
morality. It is not at all covered by those who are content to tell
everybody to remain at peace. On the contrary, there is a very striking
example of it in the apparent inconsistency between Christ's sayings
about peace and about a sword. It is precisely this power which
perceives that while a good peace is better than a good war, even a good
war is better than a bad peace. These far-flung comparisons are nowhere
so common as in the Gospels; and to me they suggest something very vast.
So a thing solitary and solid, with the added dimension of depth or
height, might tower over the flat creatures living only on a plane.

This quality of something that can only be called subtle and superior,
something that is capable of long views and even of double meanings, is
not noted here merely as a counterblast to the commonplace exaggerations
of amiability and mild idealism. It is also to be noted in connection
with the more tremendous truth touched upon at the end of the last
chapter. For this is the very last character that commonly goes with
mere megalomania; especially such steep and staggering megalomania as
might be involved in that claim. This quality that can only be called
intellectual distinction is not, of course, an evidence of divinity. But
it is an evidence of a probable distaste for vulgar and vainglorious
claims to divinity. A man of that sort, if he were only a man, would be
the last man in the world to suffer from that intoxication by one notion
from nowhere in particular, which is the mark of the self-deluding
sensationalist in religion. Nor is it even avoided by denying that
Christ did make this claim. Of no such man as that, of no other prophet
or philosopher of the same intellectual order, would it be even possible
to pretend that he had made it. Even if the Church had mistaken his
meaning, it would still be true that no other historical tradition
except the Church had ever even made the same mistake. Mahomedans did
not misunderstand Mahomet and suppose he was Allah. Jews did not
misinterpret Moses and identify him with Jehovah. Why was this claim
alone exaggerated unless this alone was made. Even if Christianity was
one vast universal blunder, it is still a blunder as solitary as the

The purpose of these pages is to fix the falsity of certain vague and
vulgar assumptions; and we have here one of the most false. There is a
sort of notion in the air everywhere that all the religions are equal
because all the religious founders were rivals, that they are all
fighting for the same starry crown. It is quite false. The claim to that
crown, or anything like that crown, is really so rare as to be unique.
Mahomet did not make it any more than Micah or Malachi. Confucius did
not make it any more that Plato or Marcus Aurelius. Buddha never said he
was Bramah. Zoroaster no more claimed to be Ormuz than to be Ahriman.
The truth is that, in the common run of cases, it is just as we should
expect it to be, in common sense and certainly in Christian philosophy.
It is exactly the other way. Normally speaking, the greater a man is,
the less likely he is to make the very greatest claim. Outside the
unique case we are considering, the only kind of man who ever does make
that kind of claim is a very small man; a secretive or self-centered
monomaniac. Nobody can imagine Aristotle claiming to be the father of
gods and men, come down from the sky; though we might imagine some
insane Roman Emperor like Caligula claiming it for him, or more probably
for himself. Nobody can imagine Shakespeare talking as if he were
literally divine; though we might imagine some crazy American crank
finding it as a cryptogram in Shakespeare's works, or preferably in his
own works. It is possible to find here and there human beings who make
this supremely superhuman claim. It is possible to find them in lunatic
asylums; in padded cells; possibly in strait waistcoats. But what is
much more important than their mere materialistic fate in our very
materialistic society, under very crude and clumsy laws about lunacy,
the type we know as tinged with this, or tending towards it, is a
diseased and disproportionate type; narrow yet swollen and morbid to
monstrosity. It is by rather an unlucky metaphor that we talk of a
madman as cracked; for in a sense he is not cracked enough. He is
cramped rather than cracked; there are not enough holes in his head to
ventilate it. This impossibility of letting in daylight on a delusion
does sometimes cover and conceal a delusion of divinity. It can be
found, not among prophets and sages and founders of religions, but only
among a low set of lunatics. But this is exactly where the argument
becomes intensely interesting; because the argument proves too much. For
nobody supposes that Jesus of Nazareth was that sort of person. No
modern critic in his five wits thinks that the preacher of the Sermon on
the Mount was a horrible half-witted imbecile that might be scrawling
stars on the walls of a cell. No atheist or blasphemer believes that the
author of the Parable of the Prodigal Son was a monster with one mad
idea like a cyclops with one eye. Upon any possible historical
criticism, he must be put higher in the scale of human beings than that.
Yet by all analogy we have really to put him there or else in the
highest place of all.

In, fact, those who can really take it (as I here hypothetically take
it) in a quite dry and detached spirit, have here a most curious and
interesting human problem. It is so intensely interesting, considered as
a human problem, that it is in a spirit quite disinterested, so to
speak, that I wish some of them had turned that intricate human problem
into something like an intelligible human portrait. If Christ was simply
a human character, he really was a highly complex and contradictory
human character. For he combined exactly the two things that lie at the
two extremes of human variation. He was exactly what the man with a
delusion never is; he was wise; he was a good judge. What he said was
always unexpected; but it was always unexpectedly magnanimous and often
unexpectedly moderate. Take a thing like the point of the parable of the
tares and the wheat. It has the quality that unites sanity and subtlety.
It has not the simplicity of a madman. It has not even the simplicity of
a fanatic. It might be uttered by a philosopher a hundred years old, at
the end of a century of Utopias. Nothing could be less like this quality
of seeing beyond and all round obvious things, than the condition of the
egomaniac with the one sensitive spot on his brain. I really do not see
how these two characters could be convincingly combined, except in the
astonishing way in which the creed combines them. For until we reach the
full acceptance of the fact as a fact, however marvellous, all mere
approximations to it are actually further and further away from it.
Divinity is great enough to be divine; it is great enough to call itself
divine. But as humanity grows greater, it grows less and less likely to
do so. God is God, as the Moslems say; but a great man knows he is not
God, and the greater he is the better he knows it. That is the paradox;
everything that is merely approaching to that point is merely receding
from it. Socrates, the wisest man, knows that he knows nothing. A
lunatic may think he is omniscience, and a fool may talk as if he were
omniscient. But Christ is in another sense omniscient if he not only
knows, but knows that he knows.

Even on the purely human and sympathetic side, therefore, the Jesus of
the New Testament seems to me to have in a great many ways the note of
something superhuman; that is of something human and more than human.
But there is another quality running through all his teachings which
seems to me neglected in most modern talk about them as teachings; and
that is the persistent suggestion that he has not really come to teach.
If there is one incident in the record which affects me personally as
grandly and gloriously human, it is the incident of giving wine for the
wedding-feast. That is really human in the sense in which a whole crowd
of prigs, having the appearance of human beings, can hardly be described
as human. It rises superior to all superior persons. It is as human as
Herrick and as democratic as Dickens. But even in that story there is
something else that has that note of things not fully explained; and in
a way here very relevant. I mean the first hesitation, not on any ground
touching the nature of the miracle, but on that of the propriety of
working any miracles at all, at least at that stage; 'my time is not yet
come.' What does that mean? At least it certainly meant a general plan
or purpose in the mind, with which certain things did or did not fit in.
And if we leave out that solitary strategic plan, we not only leave out
the point of the story, but the story.

We often hear of Jesus of Nazareth as a wandering teacher, and there is
a vital truth in that view in so far as it emphasises an attitude
towards luxury and convention which most respectable people would still
regard as that of a vagabond. It is expressed in his own great saying
about the holes of the foxes and the nests of the birds, and, like many
of his great sayings, it is felt as less powerful than it is, through
lack of appreciation of that great paradox by which he spoke of his own
humanity as in some way collectively and representatively human; calling
himself simply the Son of Man; that is, in effect, calling himself
simply Man. It is fitting that the New Man or the Second Adam should
repeat in so ringing a voice and with so arresting a gesture the great
fact which came first in the original story, that man differs from the
brutes by everything, even by deficiency; that he is in a sense less
normal and even less native; a stranger upon the earth. It is well to
speak of his wanderings in this sense and in the sense that he shared
the drifting life of the most homeless and hopeless of the poor. It is
assuredly well to remember that he would quite certainly have been moved
on by the police and almost certainly arrested by the police for having
no visible means of subsistence. For our law has in it a turn of humour
or touch of fancy which Nero and Herod never happened to think of, that
of actually punishing homeless people for not sleeping at home.

But in another sense the word 'wandering' as applied to his life is a
little misleading. As a matter of fact, a great many of the pagan sages
and not a few of the pagan sophists might truly be described as
wandering teachers. In some of them their rambling journeys were not
altogether without a parallel in their rambling remarks. Apollonius of
Tyana, who figured in some fashionable cults as a sort of ideal
philosopher, is represented as rambling as far as the Ganges and
Ethiopia, more or less talking all the time. There was actually a school
of philosophers called the Peripatetics; and most even of the great
philosophers give us a vague impression of having very little to do
except to walk and talk. The great conversations which give us our
glimpses of the great minds of Socrates or Buddha or even Confucius
often seem to be parts of a never-ending picnic; and especially, which
is the important point, to have neither beginning nor end. Socrates did
indeed find the conversation interrupted by the incident of his
execution. But it is the whole point and the whole particular merit, of
the position of Socrates that death was only an interruption and an
incident. We miss the real moral importance of the great philosopher if
we miss that point; that he stares at the executioner with an innocent
surprise, and almost an innocent annoyance, at finding anyone so
unreasonable as to cut short a little conversation for the elucidation
of truth. He is looking for truth and not looking for death. Death is
but a stone in the road which can trip him up. His work in life is to
wander on the roads of the world and talk about truth for ever. Buddha,
on the other hand, did arrest attention by one gesture; it was the
gesture of renunciation, and therefore in a sense of denial. But by one
dramatic negation he passed into a world of negation that was not
dramatic; which he would have been the first to insist was not dramatic.
Here again we miss the particular moral importance of the great mystic
if we do not see the distinction; that it was his whole point that he
had done with drama, which consists of desire and struggle and generally
of defeat and disappointment. He passes into peace and lives to instruct
others how to pass into it. Henceforth his life is that of the ideal
philosopher; certainly a far more really ideal philosopher than
Apollonius of Tyana; but still a philosopher in the sense that it is not
his business to do anything but rather to explain everything; in his
case, we might almost say, mildly and softly to explore everything. For
the messages are basically different. Christ said 'Seek first the
kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you.' Buddha said
'Seek first the kingdom, and then you will need none of these things.'

Now compared to these wanderers the life of Jesus went as swift and
straight as a thunderbolt. It was above all things dramatic; it did
above all things consist in doing something that had to be done. It
emphatically would not have been done, if Jesus had walked about the
world for ever doing nothing except tell the truth. And even the
external movement of it must not be described as a wandering in the
sense of forgetting that it was a journey. This is where it was a
fulfilment of the myths rather than of the philosophies; it is a journey
with a goal and an object, like Jason going to find the Golden Fleece,
or Hercules the golden apples of the Hesperides. The gold that he was
seeking was death. The primary thing that he was going to do was to die.
He was going to do other things equally definite and objective; we might
almost say equally external and material. But from first to last the
most definite fact is that he is going to die. No two things could
possibly be more different than the death of Socrates and the death of
Christ. We are meant to feel that the death of Socrates was, from the
point of view of his friends at least, a stupid muddle and miscarriage
of justice interfering with the flow of a humane and lucid, I had almost
said a light philosophy. We are meant to feel that Death was the bride
of Christ as Poverty was the bride of St. Francis. We are meant to feel
that his life was in that sense a sort of love-affair with death, a
romance of the pursuit of the ultimate sacrifice. From the moment when
the star goes up like a birthday rocket to the moment when the sun is
extinguished like a funeral torch, the whole story moves on wings with
the speed and direction of a drama, ending in an act beyond words.

Therefore the story of Christ is the story of a journey, almost in the
manner of a military march; certainly in the manner of the quest of a
hero moving to his achievement or his doom. It is a story that begins in
the paradise of Galilee, a pastoral and peaceful land having really some
hint of Eden, and gradually climbs the rising country into the mountains
that are nearer to the storm-clouds and the stars, as to a Mountain of
Purgatory. He may be met as if straying in strange places, or stopped on
the way for discussion or dispute; but his face is set towards the
mountain city. That is the meaning of that great culmination when he
crested the ridge and stood at the turning of the road and suddenly
cried aloud, lamenting over Jerusalem. Some light touch of that lament
is in every patriotic poem; or if it is absent, the patriotism stinks
with vulgarity. That is the meaning the stirring and startling incident
at the gates of the Temple, when the tables were hurled like lumber down
the steps, and the rich merchants driven forth with bodily blows; the
incident that must be at least as much of a puzzle to the pacifists as
any paradox about non resistance can be to any of the militarists. I
have compared the quest to the journey of Jason, but we must never
forget that in a deeper sense it is rather to be compared to the journey
of Ulysses. It was not only a romance of travel but a romance of return;
and of the end of a usurpation. No healthy boy reading the story regards
the rout of the Ithacan suitors as anything but a happy ending. But
there are doubtless some who regard the rout of the Jewish merchants and
money changers with that refined repugnance which never fails to move
them in the presence of violence, and especially of violence against the
well-to-do. The point, here however, is that all these incidents have in
them a character of mounting crisis. In other words, these incidents are
not incidental. When Apollonius the ideal philosopher is brought before
the judgement-seat of Domitian and vanishes by magic, the miracle is
entirely incidental. It might have occurred at any time in the wandering
life of the Tyanean; indeed, I believe it is doubtful in date as well as
in substance. The ideal philosopher merely vanished, and resumed his
ideal existence somewhere else for an indefinite period. It is
characteristic of the contrast perhaps that Apollonius was supposed to
have lived to an almost miraculous old age. Jesus of Nazareth was less
prudent in his miracles. When Jesus was brought before the
judgement-seat of Pontius Pilate, he did not vanish. It was the crisis
and the goal; it was the hour and the power of darkness. It was the
supremely supernatural act, of all his miraculous life, that he did not

Every attempt to amplify that story has diminished it. The task has been
attempted by many men of real genius and eloquence as well as by only
too many vulgar sentimentalists and self-conscious rhetoricians. The
tale has been retold with patronising pathos by elegant sceptics and
with fluent enthusiasm by boisterous best-sellers. It will not be retold
here. The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like
the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simply enough will
feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words
about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What
is the use of word-painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with
torchlight and furious faces? 'Are you come out with swords and staves
as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took
me not.' Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of
that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall?
'Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for
your children.' As the High Priest asked what further need he had of
witnesses, we might well ask what further need we have of words. Peter
in a panic repudiated him: 'and immediately the cock crew; and Jesus
looked upon Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.' Has anyone any
further remarks to offer. Just before the murder he prayed for all the
murderous race of men, saying, 'They know not what they do'; is there
anything to say to that, except that we know as little what we say? Is
there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy
trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two
thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution; and how in all that
horror and howling wilderness of desertion one voice spoke in homage, a
startling voice from the very last place where it was looked for, the
gibbet of the criminal; and he said to that nameless ruffian, 'This
night shalt thou be with me in Paradise'? Is there anything to put after
that but a full stop? Or is anyone prepared to answer adequately that
farewell gesture to all flesh which created for his Mother a new Son?

It is more within my powers, and here more immediately to my purpose, to
point out that in that scene were symbolically gathered all the human
forces that have been vaguely sketched in this story. As kings and
philosophers and the popular element had been symbolically present at
his birth, so they were more practically concerned in his death; and
with that we come face to face with the essential fact to be realised.
All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or
another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not
save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and
everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract.
Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is
always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to
understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than
once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was
emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and
the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are
at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It
was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of
an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen
Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which
was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended
the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa
and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning
flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going
downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the
confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to
say what is justice can only ask: 'What is truth?' So in that drama
which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is
fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost
another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of
rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the
practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of
his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

There too were the priests of that pure and original truth that was
behind all the mythologies like the sky behind the clouds. It was the
most important truth in the world; and even that could not save the
world. Perhaps there is something overpowering in pure personal theism;
like seeing the sun and moon and sky come together to form one staring
face. Perhaps the truth is too tremendous when not broken by some
intermediaries divine or human; perhaps it is merely too pure and far
away. Anyhow it could not save the world; it could not even conquer the
world. There were philosophers who held it in its highest and noblest
form; but they not only could not convert the world, but they never
tried. You could no more fight the jungle of popular mythology with a
private opinion than you could clear away a forest with a pocket-knife.
The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad
sense. They had kept it as a gigantic secret. As savage heroes might
have kept the sun in a box, they kept the Everlasting in the tabernacle.
They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a
single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind.
Since that day their representatives have been like blind men in broad
daylight, striking to right and left with their staffs, and cursing the
darkness. But there has been that in their monumental monotheism that it
has at least remained like a monument, the last thing of its kind, and
in a sense motionless in the more restless world which it cannot
satisfy. For it is certain that for some reason it cannot satisfy. Since
that day it has never been quite enough to say that God is in his heaven
and all is right with the world, since the rumour that God had left his
heavens to set it right.

And as it was with these powers that were good, or at least had once
been good, so it was with the element which was perhaps the best, or
which Christ himself seems certainly to have felt as the best. The poor
to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him
gladly, the populace that had made so many popular heroes and demigods
in the old pagan world, showed also the weaknesses that were dissolving
the world. They suffered the evils often seen in the mob of the city,
and especially the mob of the capital, during the decline of a society.
The same thing that makes the rural population live on tradition makes
the urban population live on rumour. Just as its myths at the best had
been irrational, so its likes and dislikes are easily changed by
baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative. Some
brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular
figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ. In all this we
recognise the urban population that we know, with its newspaper scares
and scoops. But there was present in this ancient population an evil
more peculiar to the ancient world. We have noted it already as the
neglect of the individual, even of the individual voting the
condemnation and still more of the individual condemned. It was the soul
of the hive; a heathen thing. The cry of this spirit also was heard in
that hour, 'It is well that one man die for the people.' Yet this spirit
in antiquity of devotion to the city and to the state had also been in
itself and in its time a noble spirit. It had its poets and its martyrs;
men still to be honoured for ever. It was failing through its weakness
in not seeing the separate soul of a man, the shrine of all mysticism;
but it was only failing as everything else was failing. The mob went
along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the
moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred
priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human
spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one
deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of

There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets
in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in
speech; or in any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any
words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative
even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the
hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the
beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may
surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven
out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully
unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity
they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss
that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the
absolute; and God had been forsaken of God.

They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among
the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in
his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be
some riot and attempt to recover the body. There was once more a natural
symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should
be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulture and guarded
by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of
that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up
and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a
very great thing called human history; the history that was merely
human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods
and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived.
But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead.

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place
found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they
realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world
had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a
new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of
the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the
evening but the dawn.

* * *



Christ founded the Church with two great figures of speech; in the final
words to the Apostles who received authority to found it. The first was
the phrase about founding it on Peter as on a rock; the second was the
symbol of the keys. About the meaning of the former there is naturally
no doubt in my own case; but it does not directly affect the argument
here save in two more secondary aspects. It is yet another example of a
thing that could only fully expand and explain itself afterwards, and
even long afterwards. And it is yet another example of something the
very reverse of simple and self-evident even in the language, in so far
as it described a man as a rock when he had much more the appearance of
a reed.

But the other image of the keys has an exactitude that has hardly been
exactly noticed. The keys have been conspicuous enough in the art and
heraldry of Christendom; but not everyone has noted the peculiar aptness
of the allegory. We have now reached the point in history where
something must be said of the first appearance and activities of the
Church in the Roman Empire; and for that brief description nothing could
be more perfect than that ancient metaphor. The Early Christian was very
precisely a person carrying about a key, or what he said was a key. The
whole Christian movement consisted in claiming to possess that key. It
was not merely a vague forward movement, which might be better
represented by a battering-ram. It was not something that swept along
with it similar or dissimilar things, as does a modern social movement.
As we shall see in a moment, it rather definitely refused to do so. It
definitely asserted that there was a key and that it possessed that key
and that no other key was like it; in that sense it was as narrow as you
please. Only it happened to be the key that could unlock the prison of
the whole world; and let in the white daylight of liberty.

The creed was like a key in three respects; which can be most
conveniently summed up under this symbol. First, a key is above all
things a thing with a shape It is a thing that depends entirely upon
keeping its shape. The Christian creed is above all things the
philosophy of shapes and the enemy of shapelessness. That is where it
differs from all that formless infinity, Manichean or Buddhist, which
makes a sort of pool of night in the dark heart of Asia; the ideal of
uncreating all the creatures. That is where it differs also from the
analogous vagueness of mere evolutionism, the idea of creatures
constantly losing their shape. A man told that his solitary latchkey had
been melted down with a million others into a Buddhistic unity would be
annoyed. But a man told that his key was gradually growing and sprouting
in his pocket, and branching into new wards or complications, would not
be more gratified.

Second, the shape of a key is in itself a rather fantastic shape. A
savage who did not know it was a key would have the greatest difficulty
in guessing what it could possibly be. And it is fantastic because it is
in a sense arbitrary. A key is not a matter of abstractions; in that
sense a key is not a matter of argument. It either fits the lock or it
does not. It is useless for men to stand disputing over it, considered
by itself; or reconstructing it on pure principles of geometry or
decorative art. It is senseless for a man to say he would like a simple
key; it would be far more sensible to do his best with a crowbar. And
thirdly, as the key is necessarily a thing with a pattern, so this was
one having in some ways a rather elaborate pattern. When people complain
of the religion being so early complicated with theology and things of
the kind, they forget that the world had not only got into a hole, but
had got into a whole maze of holes and corners. The problem itself was a
complicated problem; it did not in the ordinary sense merely involve
anything so simple as sin. It was also full of secrets, of unexplored
and unfathomable fallacies, of unconscious mental diseases, of dangers
in all directions. If the faith had faced the world only with the
platitudes about peace and simplicity some moralists would confine it
to, it would not have had the faintest effect on that luxurious and
labyrinthine lunatic asylum. What it did do we must now roughly
describe; it is enough to say here that there was undoubtedly much about
the key that seemed complex, indeed there was only one thing about it
that was simple. It opened the door.

There are certain recognised and accepted statements in this matter
which may for brevity and convenience be described as lies. We have all
heard people say that Christianity arose in an age of barbarism. They
might just as well say that Christian Science arose in an age of
barbarism. They may think Christianity was a symptom of social decay, as
I think Christian Science a symptom of mental decay. They may think
Christianity a superstition that ultimately destroyed a civilisation, as
I think Christian Science a superstition capable (if taken seriously) of
destroying any number of civilisations. But to say that a Christian of
the fourth or fifth centuries was a barbarian living in a barbarous time
is exactly like saying that Mrs. Eddy was a Red Indian. And if I allowed
my constitutional impatience with Mrs. Eddy to impel me to call her a
Red Indian, I should incidentally be telling a lie. We may like or
dislike the imperial civilisation of Rome in the fourth century; we may
like or dislike the industrial civilisation of America in the nineteenth
century; but that they both were what we commonly mean by a civilisation
no person of commonsense could deny if he wanted to. This is a very
obvious fact but it is also a very fundamental one; and we must make it
the foundation of any further description of constructive Christianity
in the past. For good or evil, it was pre-eminently the product of a
civilised age, perhaps of an over-civilised age. This is the first fact
apart from all praise or blame; indeed I am so unfortunate as not to
feel that I praise a thing when I compare it to Christian Science. But
it is at least desirable to know something of the savour of a society in
which we are condemning or praising anything; and the science that
connects Mrs. Eddy with tomahawks or the Mater Dolorosa with totems may
for our general convenience be eliminated. The dominant fact, not merely
about the Christian religion, but about the whole pagan civilisation,
was that which has been more than once repeated in these pages. The
Mediterranean was a lake in the real sense of a pool; in which a number
of different cults or cultures were, as the phrase goes, pooled. Those
cities facing each other round the circle of the lake became more and
more one cosmopolitan culture. On its legal and military side it was the
Roman Empire, but it was very many-sided. It might be called
superstitious in the sense that it contained a great number of varied
superstitions; but by no possibility can any part of it be called

In this level of cosmopolitan culture arose the Christian religion and
the Catholic Church; and everything in the story suggests that it was
felt to be something new and strange. Those who have tried to suggest
that it evolved out of something much milder or more ordinary have found
that in this case their evolutionary method is very difficult to apply.
They may suggest that Essenes or Ebionites or such things were the seed;
but the seed is invisible; the tree appears very rapidly full-grown; and
the tree is something totally different. It is certainly a Christmas
tree in the sense that it keeps the kindliness and moral beauty of the
story of Bethlehem; but it was as ritualistic as the seven-branched
candlestick, and the candles it carried were considerably more than were
probably permitted by the first prayer-book of Edward the Sixth. It
might well be asked, indeed, why any one accepting the Bethlehem
tradition should object to golden or gilded ornament since the Magi
themselves brought gold, why he should dislike incense in the church
since incense was brought even to the stable. But these are
controversies that do not concern me here. I am concerned only with the
historical fact, more and more admitted by historians, that very early
in its history this thing became visible to the civilisation of
antiquity; and that already the Church appeared as a Church; with
everything that is implied in a Church and much that is disliked in a
Church. We will discuss in a moment how far it was like other
ritualistic or magical or ascetical mysteries in its own time. It was
certainly not in the least like merely ethical and idealistic movements
in our time. It had a doctrine; it had a discipline; it had sacraments;
it had degrees of initiation, it admitted people and expelled people; it
affirmed one dogma with authority and repudiated another with anathemas.
If all these things be the marks of Antichrist, the reign of Antichrist
followed very rapidly upon Christ.

Those who maintain that Christianity was not a Church but a moral
movement of idealists have been forced to push the period of its
perversion or disappearance further and further back. A bishop of Rome
writes claiming authority in the very lifetime of St. John the
Evangelist; and it is described as the first papal aggression. A friend
of the Apostles writes of them as men he knew and says they taught him
the doctrine of the Sacrament, and Mr. Wells can only murmur that the
reaction towards barbaric blood-rites may have happened rather earlier
than might be expected. The date of the Fourth Gospel, which at one time
was steadily growing later and later, is now steadily growing earlier
and earlier; until critics are staggered at the dawning and dreadful
possibility that it might be something like what it professes to be. The
last limit of an early date for the extinction of true Christianity has
probably been found by the latest German professor whose authority is
invoked by Dean Inge. This learned scholar says that Pentecost was the
occasion for the first founding of an ecclesiastical, dogmatic, and
despotic Church utterly alien to the simple ideals of Jesus of Nazareth.
This may be called, in a popular as well as a learned sense, the limit.
What do professors of this kind imagine that men are made of? Suppose it
were a matter of any merely human movement, let us say that of the
conscientious objectors. Some say the early Christians were Pacifists; I
do not believe it for a moment; but I am quite ready to accept the
parallel for the sake of the argument. Tolstoy or some great preacher of
peace among peasants has been shot as a mutineer for defying
conscription; and a little while afterwards his few followers meet
together in an upper room in remembrance of him. They never had any
reason for coming together except that common memory; they are men of
many kinds with nothing to bind them, except that the greatest event in
all their lives was this tragedy of the teacher of universal peace. They
are always repeating his words, revolving his problems, trying to
imitate his character. The Pacifists meet at their Pentecost and are
possessed of a sudden ecstasy of enthusiasm and wild rush of the
whirlwind of inspiration, in the course of which they proceed to
establish universal Conscription, to increase the Navy Estimates, to
insist on everybody going about armed to the teeth and on all the
frontiers bristling with artillery; the proceedings concluded with the
singing of 'Boys of the Bulldog Breed' and 'Don't let them scrap the
British Navy.' That is something like a fair parallel to the theory of
these critics; that the transition from their idea of Jesus to their
idea of Catholicism could have been made in the little upper room at
Pentecost. Surely anybody's commonsense would tell him that enthusiasts
who only met through their common enthusiasm for a leader whom they
loved, would not instantly rush away to establish everything that he
hated. No, if the 'ecclesiastical and dogmatic system' is as old as
Pentecost it is as old as Christmas. If we trace it back to such very
early Christians we must trace it back to Christ.

We may begin then with these two negations. It is nonsense to say that
the Christian faith appeared in a simple age; in the sense of an
unlettered and gullible age. It is equally nonsense to say that the
Christian faith was a simple thing; in the sense of a vague or childish
or merely instinctive thing. Perhaps the only point in which we could
possibly say that the Church fitted into the pagan world, is the fact
that they were both not only highly civilised but rather complicated.
They were both emphatically many-sided; but antiquity was then a
many-sided hole, like a hexagonal hole waiting for an equally hexagonal
stopper. In that sense only the Church was many-sided enough to fit the
world. The six sides of the Mediterranean world faced each other across
the sea and waited for something that should look all ways at once. The
Church had to be both Roman and Greek and Jewish and African and
Asiatic. In the very words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, it was indeed
all things to all men. Christianity then was not merely crude and simple
and was the very reverse of the growth of a barbaric time. But when we
come to the contrary charge, we come to a much more plausible charge. It
is very much more tenable that the Faith was but the final phase of the
decay of civilisation, in the sense of the excess of civilisation; that
this superstition was a sign that Rome was dying, and dying of being
much too civilised. That is an argument much better worth considering;
and we will proceed to consider it.

At the beginning of this book I ventured on a general summary of it, in
a parallel between the rise of humanity out of nature and the rise of
Christianity out of history. I pointed out that in both cases what had
gone before might imply something coming after; but did not in the least
imply what did come after. If a detached mind had seen certain apes it
might have deduced more anthropoids; it would not have deduced man or
anything within a thousand miles of what man has done. In short, it
might have seen Pithecanthropus or the Missing Link looming in the
future, if possible almost as dimly and doubtfully as we see him looming
in the past. But if it foresaw him appearing it would also foresee him
disappearing, and leaving a few faint traces just as he has left a few
faint traces; if they are traces. To foresee that Missing Link would not
be to foresee Man, or anything like Man. Now this earlier explanation
must be kept in mind; because it is an exact parallel to the true view
of the Church; and the suggestion of it having evolved naturally out of
the Empire in decay.

The truth is that in one sense a man might very well have predicted that
the imperial decadence would produce something like Christianity. That
is, something a little like and gigantically different. A man might very
well have said, for instance, 'Pleasure has been pursued so
extravagantly that there will be a reaction into pessimism. Perhaps it
will take the form of asceticism; men will mutilate themselves instead
of merely hanging themselves.' Or a man might very reasonably have said,
'If we weary of our Greek and Latin gods we shall be hankering after
some eastern mystery or other; there will be a fashion in Persians or
Hindoos.' Or a man of the world might well have been shrewd enough to
say, 'Powerful people are picking up these fads; some day the court will
adopt one of them and it may become official.' Or yet another and
gloomier prophet might be pardoned for saying, 'The world is going
down-hill; dark and barbarous superstitions will return, it does not
matter much which. They will all be formless and fugitive like dreams of
the night.'

Now it is the intense interest of the case that all these prophecies
were really fulfilled; but it was not the Church that fulfilled them. It
was the Church that escaped from them, confounded them, and rose above
them in triumph. In so far as it was probable that the mere nature of
hedonism would produce a mere reaction of asceticism it did produce a
mere reaction of asceticism. It was the movement called Manichean and
the Church was its mortal enemy. In so far as it would have naturally
appeared at that point of history, it did appear; it did also disappear,
which was equally natural. The mere pessimist reaction did come with the
Manichees and did go with the Manichees But the Church did not come with
them or go with them; and she had much more to do with them going than
with their coming. Or again, in so far as it was probable that even the
growth of scepticism would bring in a fashion of eastern religion, it
did bring it in; Mithras came from far beyond Palestine out of the heart
of Persia, bringing strange mysteries of the blood of bulls. Certainly
there was everything to show that some such fashion would have come in
any case but certainly there is nothing in the world to show that it
would not have passed away in any case. Certainly an Oriental fad was
something eminently fitted to the fourth or fifth century; but that
hardly explains it having remained to the twentieth century, and still
going strong. In short, in so far as things of the kind might have been
expected then, things like Mithraism were experienced then; but it
scarcely explains our more recent experiences. And if we were still
Mithraists merely because Mithraic head-dresses and other Persian
apparatuses might be expected to be all the rage in the days of
Domitian, it would almost seem by this time that we must be a little

It is the same, as will be suggested in a moment, with the idea of
official favouritism. In so far as such favouritism shown towards a fad
was something that might have been looked for during the decline and
fall of the Roman Empire, it was something that did exist in that Empire
and did decline and fall with it. It throws no sort of light on the
thing that resolutely refused to decline and fall; that grew steadily
while the other was declining and falling; and which even at this moment
is going forward with fearless energy, when an other aeon has completed
its cycle and another civilisation seems almost ready to fall or to

Now the curious fact is this; that the very heresies which the early
Church is blamed for crushing testify to the unfairness for which she is
blamed. In so far as something deserved the blame, it was precisely the
things that she is blamed for blaming. In so far as something was merely
a superstition, she herself condemned that superstition. In so far as
something was a mere reaction into barbarism, she herself resisted it
because it was a reaction into barbarism. In so far as something was a
fad of the fading empire, that died and deserved to die, it was the
Church alone that killed it. The Church is reproached for being exactly
what the heresy was repressed for being The explanations of the
evolutionary historians and higher critics do really explain why
Arianism and Gnosticism and Nestorianism were born--and also why they
died. They do not explain why the Church was born or why she has refused
to die. Above all, they do not explain why she should have made war on
the very evils she is supposed to share.

Let us take a few practical examples of the principle; the principle
that if there was anything that was really a superstition of the dying
empire, it did really die with the dying empire; and certainly was not
the same as the very thing that destroyed it. For this purpose we will
take in order two or three of the most ordinary explanations of
Christian origins among the modern critics of Christianity. Nothing is
more common, for instance, than to find such a modern critic writing
something like this: 'Christianity was above all a movement of ascetics,
a rush into the desert, a refuge in the cloister, a renunciation of all
life and happiness; and this was a part of a gloomy and in human
reaction against nature itself, a hatred of the body, a horror of the
material universe, a sort of universal suicide of the senses and even of
the self. It came from an eastern fanaticism like that of the fakirs and
was ultimately founded on an eastern pessimism, which seems to feel
existence itself as an evil.'

Now the most extraordinary thing about this is that it is all quite
true; it is true in every detail except that it happens to be attributed
entirely to the wrong person. It is not true of the Church; but it is
true of the heretics condemned by the Church. It is as if one were to
write a most detailed analysis of the mistakes and misgovernment of the
ministers of George the Third, merely with the small inaccuracy that the
whole story was told about George Washington; or as if somebody made a
list of the crimes of the Bolshevists with no variation except that they
were all attributed to the Czar. The early Church was indeed very
ascetic in connection with a totally different philosophy; but the
philosophy of a war on life and nature as such really did exist in the
world, if the critics only knew where to look for it.

What really happened was this. When the Faith first emerged into the
world, the very first thing that happened to it was that it was caught
in a sort of swarm of mystical and metaphysical sects, mostly out of the
East; like one lonely golden bee caught in a swarm of wasps. To the
ordinary onlooker, there did not seem to be much difference, or anything
beyond a general buzz; indeed in a sense there was not much difference
so far as stinging and being stung were concerned. The difference was
that only one golden dot in all that whirring gold-dust had the power of
going forth to make hives for all humanity; to give the world honey and
wax or (as was so finely said in a context too easily forgotten) 'the
two noblest things, which are sweetness and light.' The wasps all died
that winter; and half the difficulty is that hardly anyone knows
anything about them and most people do not know that they ever existed;
so that the whole story of that first phase of our religion is lost. Or,
to vary the metaphor, when this movement or some other movement pierced
the dyke between the east and west and brought more mystical ideas into
Europe, it brought with it a whole flood of other mystical ideas besides
its own, most of them ascetical and nearly all of them pessimistic. They
very nearly flooded and over-whelmed the purely Christian element. They
came mostly from that region that was a sort of dim borderland between
the eastern philosophies and the eastern mythologies, and which shared
with the wilder philosophers that curious crave for making fantastic
patterns of the cosmos in the shape of maps and genealogical trees.
Those that are supposed to derive from the mysterious Manes are called
Manichean; kindred cults are more generally known as Gnostic; they are
mostly of a labyrinthine complexity, but the point to insist on is the
pessimism; the fact that nearly all in one form or another regarded the
creation of the world as the work of an evil spirit. Some of them had
that Asiatic atmosphere that surrounds Buddhism; the suggestion that
life is a corruption of the purity of being. Some of them suggested a
purely spiritual order which had been betrayed by the coarse and clumsy
trick of making such toys as the sun and moon and stars. Anyhow all this
dark tide out of the metaphysical sea in the midst of Asia poured
through the dykes simultaneously with the creed of Christ; but it is the
whole point of the story that the two were not the same; that they
flowed like oil and water. That creed remained in the shape of a
miracle; a river still flowing through the sea. And the proof of the
miracle was practical once more; it was merely that while all that sea
was salt and bitter with the savour of death, of this one stream in the
midst of it a man could drink.

Now that purity was preserved by dogmatic definitions and exclusions. It
could not possibly have been preserved by anything else If the Church
had not renounced the Manicheans it might have become merely Manichean.
If it had not renounced the Gnostics it might have become Gnostic. But
by the very fact that it did renounce them it proved that it was not
either Gnostic or Manichean. At any rate it proved that something was
not either Gnostic or Manichean; and what could it be that condemned
them, if it was not the original good news of the runners from Bethlehem
and the trumpet of the Resurrection? The early Church was ascetic, but
she proved that she was not pessimistic, simply by condemning the
pessimists. The creed declared that man was sinful, but it did not
declare that life was evil, and it proved it by damning those who did.
The condemnation of the early heretics is itself condemned as something
crabbed and narrow; but it was in truth the very proof that the Church
meant to be brotherly and broad. It proved that the primitive Catholics
were specially eager to explain that they did not think man utterly
vile; that they did not think life incurably miserable; that they did
not think marriage a sin or procreation a tragedy. They were ascetic
because asceticism was the only possible purge of the sins of the world;
but in the very thunder of their anathemas they affirmed for ever that
their asceticism was not to be anti-human or anti-natural; that they did
wish to purge the world and not destroy it. And nothing else except
those anathemas could possibly have made it clear, amid a confusion
which still confuses them with their mortal enemies. Nothing else but
dogma could have resisted the riot of imaginative invention with which
the pessimists were waging their war against nature; with their Aeons
and their Demiurge, their strange Logos and their sinister Sophia. If
the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad
mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from
rationalism; and, above all yet further removed from life and from the
love of life. Remember that it would have been an inverted mythology,
one contradicting everything natural in paganism; a mythology in which
Pluto would be above Jupiter and Hades hang higher than Olympus; in
which Brahma and all that has the breath of life would be subject to
Seeva, shining with the eye of death.

That the early Church was itself full of an ecstatic enthusiasm for
renunciation and virginity makes this distinction much more striking and
not less so. It makes all the more important the place where the dogma
drew the line. A man might crawl about on all fours like a beast because
he was an ascetic. He might stand night and day on the top of a pillar
and be adored for being an ascetic, but he could not say that the world
was a mistake or the marriage state a sin without being a heretic. What
was it that thus deliberately disengaged itself from eastern asceticism
by sharp definition and fierce refusal, if it was not something with an
individuality of its own; and one that was quite different? If the
Catholics are to be confused with the Gnostics, we can only say it was
not their fault if they are. And it is rather hard that the Catholics
should be blamed by the same critics for persecuting the heretics and
also for sympathising with the heresy.

The Church was not a Manichean movement if only because it was not a
movement at all. It was not even merely an ascetical movement, because
it was not a movement at all. It would be nearer the truth to call it
the tamer of asceticism than the mere leader or loosener of it. It was a
thing having its own theory of asceticism, its own type of asceticism,
but most conspicuous at the moment as the moderator of other theories
and types. This is the only sense that can be made, for instance, of the
story of St. Augustine. As long as he was a mere man of the world, a
mere man drifting with his time, he actually was a Manichean. It really
was quite modern and fashionable to be a Manichean. But when he became a
Catholic, the people he instantly turned on and rent in pieces were the
Manicheans. The Catholic way of putting it is that he left off being a
pessimist to become an ascetic. But as the pessimists interpreted
asceticism, it ought to be said that he left off being an ascetic to
become a saint. The war upon life, the denial of nature, were exactly
the things he had already found in the heathen world outside the Church,
and had to renounce when he entered the Church. The very fact that St
Augustine remains a somewhat sterner or sadder figure than St. Francis
or St. Teresa only accentuates the dilemma. Face to face with the
gravest or even grimmest of Catholics, we can still ask, 'Why did
Catholicism make war on Manichees, if Catholicism was Manichean?'

Take another rationalistic explanation of the rise of Christendom. It is
common enough to find another critic saying, 'Christianity did not
really rise at all; that is, it did not merely rise from below; it was
imposed from above. It is an example of the power of the executive,
especially in despotic states. The Empire was really an Empire; that is,
it was really ruled by the Emperor. One of the Emperors happened to
become a Christian. He might just as well have become a Mithraist or a
Jew or a Fire-Worshipper; it was common in the decline of the Empire for
eminent and educated people to adopt these eccentric eastern cults. But
when he adopted it, it became the official religion of the Roman Empire;
and when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it became
as strong, as universal and as invincible as the Roman Empire. It has
only remained in the world as a relic of that Empire; or, as many have
put it, it is but the ghost of Caesar still hovering over Rome.' This
also is a very ordinary line taken in the criticism of orthodoxy, to say
that it was only officialism that ever made it orthodoxy. And here again
we can call on the heretics to refute it.

The whole great history of the Arian heresy might have been invented to
explode this idea. It is a very interesting history often repeated in
this connection; and the upshot of it is in that in so far as there ever
was a merely official religion, it actually died because it was merely
an official religion; and what destroyed it was the real religion. Arius
advanced a version of Christianity which moved, more or less vaguely, in
the direction of what we should call Unitarianism; though it was not the
same, for it gave to Christ a curious intermediary position between the
divine and human. The point is that it seemed to many more reasonable
and less fanatical; and among these were many of the educated class in a
sort of reaction against the first romance of conversion. Arians were a
sort of moderates and a sort of modernists. And it was felt that after
the first squabbles this was the final form of rationalised religion
into which civilisation might well settle down. It was accepted by Divus
Caesar himself and became the official orthodoxy; the generals and
military princes drawn from the new barbarian powers of the north, full
of the future, supported it strongly. But the sequel is still more
important. Exactly as a modern man might pass through Unitarianism to
complete agnosticism, so the greatest of the Arian emperors ultimately
shed the last and thinnest pretense of Christianity; he abandoned ever
Arius and returned to Apollo. He was a Caesar of the Caesars; a soldier,
a scholar, a man of large ambitions and ideals; another of the
philosopher kings. It seemed to him as if at his signal the sun rose
again. The oracles began to speak like birds beginning to sing at dawn;
paganism was itself again; the gods returned. It seemed the end of that
strange interlude of an alien superstition. And indeed it was the end of
it, so far as there was a mere interlude of mere superstition. It was
the end of it, in so far as it was the fad of an emperor or the fashion
of a generation. If there really was something that began with
Constantine, then it ended with Julian.

But there was something that did not end. There had arisen in that hour
of history, defiant above the democratic tumult of the Councils of the
Church, Athanasius against the world. We may pause upon the point at
issue; because it is relevant to the whole of this religious history,
and the modern world seems to miss the whole point of it. We might put
it this way. If there is one question which the enlightened and liberal
have the habit of deriding and holding up as a dreadful example of
barren dogma and senseless sectarian strife, it is this Athanasian
question of the Co-Eternity of the Divine Son. On the other hand, if
there is one thing that the same liberals always offer us as a piece of
pure and simple Christianity, untroubled by doctrinal disputes, it is
the single sentence, 'God is Love.' Yet the two statements are almost
identical; at least one is very nearly nonsense without the other. The
barren dogma is only the logical way of stating the beautiful sentiment.
For if there be a being without beginning, existing before all things,
was He loving when there was nothing to be loved? If through that
unthinkable eternity He is lonely, what is the meaning of saying He is
love? The only justification of such a mystery is the mystical
conception that in His own nature there was something analogous to
self-expression; something of what begets and beholds what it has
begotten. Without some such idea, it is really illogical to complicate
the ultimate essence of deity with an idea like love. If the moderns
really want a simple religion of love, they must look for it in the
Athanasian Creed. The truth is that the trumpet of true Christianity,
the challenge of the charities and simplicities of Bethlehem or
Christmas Day never rang out more arrestingly and unmistakably than in
the defiance of Athanasius to the cold compromise of the Arians. It was
emphatically he who really was fighting for a God of Love against a God
of colourless and remote cosmic control; the God of the stoics and the
agnostics. It was emphatically he who was fighting for the Holy Child
against the grey deity of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He was
fighting for that very balance of beautiful interdependence and
intimacy, in the very Trinity of the Divine Nature, that draws our
hearts to the Trinity of the Holy Family. His dogma, if the phrase be
not misunderstood, turns even God into a Holy Family.

That this purely Christian dogma actually for a second time rebelled
against the Empire, and actually for a second time refounded the Church
in spite of the Empire, is itself a proof that there was something
positive and personal working in the world, other than whatever official
faith the Empire chose to adopt. This power utterly destroyed the
official faith that the Empire did adopt. It went on its own way as it
is going on its own way still. There are any number of other examples in
which is repeated precisely the same process we have reviewed in the
case of the Manichean and the Arian. A few centuries afterwards, for
instance, the Church had to maintain the same Trinity, which is simply
the logical side of love, against another appearance of the isolated and
simplified deity in the religion of Islam. Yet there are some who cannot
see what the Crusaders were fighting for; and some even who talk as if
Christianity had never been anything but a form of what they call
Hebraism coming in with the decay of Hellenism. Those people must
certainly be very much puzzled by the war between the Crescent and the
Cross. If Christianity had never been anything but a simpler morality
sweeping away polytheism, there is no reason why Christendom should not
have been swept into Islam. The truth is that Islam itself was a
barbaric reaction against that very humane complexity that is really a
Christian character; that idea of balance in the deity, as of balance in
the family, that makes that creed a sort of sanity, and that sanity the
soul of civilisation. And that is why the Church is from the first a
thing holding its own position and point of view, quite apart from the
accidents and anarchies of its age. That is why it deals blows
impartially right and left, at the pessimism of the Manichean or the
optimism of the Pelagian. It was not a Manichean movement because it was
not a movement at all. It was not an official fashion because it was not
a fashion at all. It was something that could coincide with movements
and fashions, could control them and could survive them.

So might rise from their graves the great heresiarchs to confound their
comrades of to-day. There is nothing that the critics now affirm that we
cannot call on these great witnesses to deny. The modern critic will say
lightly enough that Christianity was but a reaction into asceticism and
anti-natural spirituality, a dance of fakirs furious against life and
love. But Manes the great mystic will answer them from his secret throne
and cry, 'These Christians have no right to be called spiritual; these
Christians have no title to be called ascetics, they who compromised
with the curse of life and all the filth of the family. Through them the
earth is still foul with fruit and harvest and polluted with population
Theirs was no movement against nature, or my children would have carried
it to triumph; but these fools renewed the world when I would have ended
it with a gesture.' And another critic will write that the Church was
but the shadow of the Empire, the fad of a chance Emperor, and that it
remains in Europe only as the ghost of the power of Rome. And Arius the
deacon will answer out of the darkness of oblivious 'No, indeed, or the
world would have followed my more reasonable religion. For mine went
down before demagogues and men defying Caesar; and around my champion
was the purple cloak and mine was the glory of the eagles. It was not
for lack of these things that I failed. And yet a third modern will
maintain that the creed spread only as a sort of panic of hell-fire; men
everywhere attempting impossible things in fleeing from incredible
vengeance; a nightmare of imaginary remorse; and such an explanation
will satisfy many who see something dreadful in the doctrine of
orthodoxy. And then there will go up against it the terrible voice of
Tertullian, saying, 'And why then was I cast out; and why did soft
hearts and heads decide against me when I proclaimed the perdition of
all sinners; and what was this power that thwarted me when I threatened
all backsliders with hell? For none ever went up that hard road so far
as I; and mine was the Credo Quia Impossible.' Then there is the fourth
suggestion that there was something of the Semitic secret society in the
whole matter; that it was a new invasion of the nomad spirit shaking a
kindlier and more comfortable paganism, its cities and its household
gods; whereby the jealous monotheistic races could after all establish
their jealous God. And Mahomet shall answer out of the whirlwind, the
red whirlwind of the desert, 'Who ever served the jealousy of God as I
did or left him more lonely in the sky? Who ever paid more honour to
Moses and Abraham or won more victories over idols and the images of
paganism? And what was this thing that thrust me back with the energy of
a thing alive; whose fanaticism could drive me from Sicily and tear up
my deep roots out of the rock of Spain? What faith was theirs who
thronged in thousands of every class a country crying out that my ruin
was the will of God; and what hurled great Godfrey as from a catapult
over the wall of Jerusalem, and what brought great Sobieski like a
thunderbolt to the gates of Vienna? I think there was more than you
fancy in the religion that has so matched itself with mine.'

Those who would suggest that the faith was a fanaticism are doomed to an
eternal perplexity. In their account it is bound to appear as fanatical
for nothing, and fanatical against everything. It is ascetical and at
war with ascetics, Roman and in revolt against Rome, monotheistic and
fighting furiously against monotheism; harsh in its condemnation of
harshness; a riddle not to be explained even as unreason. And what sort
of unreason is it that seems reasonable to millions of educated
Europeans through all the revolutions of some sixteen hundred years?
People are not amused with a puzzle or a paradox or a mere muddle in the
mind for all that time. I know of no explanation except that such a
thing is not unreason but reason; that if it is fanatical it is
fanatical for reason and fanatical against all the unreasonable things.
That is the only explanation I can find of a thing from the first so
detached and so confident, condemning things that looked so like itself,
refusing help from powers that seemed so essential to its existence,
sharing on its human side all the passions of the age, yet always at the
supreme moment suddenly rising superior to them, never saying exactly
what it was expected to say and never needing to unsay what it had said;
I can find no explanation except that, like Pallas from the brain of
Jove, it had indeed come forth out of the mind of God, mature and mighty
and armed for judgement and for war.

* * *



The modern missionary, with his palm-leaf hat and his umbrella, has
become rather a figure of fun. He is chaffed among men of the world for
the ease with which he can be eaten by cannibals and the narrow bigotry
which makes him regard the cannibal culture as lower than his own.
Perhaps the best part of the joke is that the men of the world do not
see that the joke is against themselves. It is rather ridiculous to ask
a man just about to be boiled in a pot and eaten, at a purely religious
feast, why he does not regard all religions as equally friendly and
fraternal. But there is a more subtle criticism uttered against the more
old-fashioned missionary; to the effect that he generalises too broadly
about the heathen and pays too little attention to the difference
between Mahomet and Mumbo-Jumbo. There was probably truth in this
complaint, especially in the past; but it is my main contention here
that the exaggeration is all the other way at present. It is the
temptation of the professors to treat mythologies too much as
theologies; as things thoroughly thought out are seriously held. It is
the temptation of the intellectuals to take much too seriously the fine
shades of various schools in the rather irresponsible metaphysics of
Asia. Above all it is their temptation to miss the real truth implied in
the idea of Aquinas contra Gentiles or Athanasius contra mundum.

If the missionary says, in fact, that he is exceptional in being a
Christian, and that the rest of the races and religions can be
collectively classified as heathen, he is perfectly right. He may say it
in quite the wrong spirit, in which case he is spiritually wrong. But in
the cold light of philosophy and history, he is intellectually right. He
may not be right minded, but he is right. He may not even have a right
to be right, but he is right. The outer world to which he brings his
creed really is some thing subject to certain generalisations covering
all its varieties, and is not merely a variety of similar creeds.
Perhaps it is in any case too much of a temptation to pride or hypocrisy
to call it heathenry. Perhaps it could be better simply to call it
humanity. But there are certain broad characteristics of what we call
humanity while it remains in what we call heathenry. They are not
necessarily bad characteristics; some of them are worthy of the respect
of Christendom; some of them have been absorbed and transfigured in the
substance of Christendom. But they existed before Christendom and they
still exist outside Christendom, as certainly as the sea existed before
a boat and all round a boat; and they have as strong and as universal
and as unmistakable a savour as the sea.

For instance, all real scholars who have studied the Greek and Roman
culture say one thing about it. They agree that in the ancient world
religion was one thing and philosophy quite another, there was very
little effort to rationalise and at the same time to realise a real
belief in the gods. There was very little pretense of any such real
belief among the philosophers. But neither had the passion or perhaps
the power to persecute the others save in particular and peculiar cases;
and neither the philosopher in his school nor the priest in his temple
seems ever to have seriously contemplated his own concept as covering
the world. A priest sacrificing to Artemis in Calydon did not seem to
think that people would some day sacrifice to her instead of to Isis
beyond the sea; a sage following the vegetarian rule of the
Neo-Pythagoreans did not seem to think it would universally prevail and
exclude the methods of Epictetus or Epicurus. We may call this
liberality if we like; I am not dealing with an argument but describing
an atmosphere. All this, I say, is admitted by all scholars; but what
neither the learned nor the unlearned have fully realised, perhaps, is
that this description is really an exact description of all
non-Christian civilisation today; and especially of the great
civilisations of the East. Eastern paganism really is much more all of a
piece, just as ancient paganism was much more all of a piece, than the
modern critics admit. It is a many-coloured Persian Carpet as the other
was a varied and tessellated Roman pavement; but the one real crack
right across that pavement came from the earthquake of the Crucifixion.

The modern European seeking his religion in Asia is reading his religion
into Asia. Religion there is something different; it is both more and
less. He is like a man mapping out the sea as land; marking waves as
mountains; not understanding the nature of its peculiar permanence. It
is perfectly true that Asia has its own dignity and poetry and high
civilisation. But it is not in the least true that Asia has its own
definite dominions of moral government, where all loyalty is conceived
in terms of morality; as when we say that Ireland is Catholic or that
New England was Puritan. The map is not marked out in religions, in our
sense of churches. The state of mind is far more subtle, more relative,
more secretive, more varied and changing, like the colours of the snake.
The Moslem is the nearest approach to a militant Christian; and that is
precisely because he is a much nearer approach to an envoy from western
civilisation. The Moslem in the heart of Asia almost stands for the soul
of Europe. And as he stands between them and Europe in the matter of
space so he stands between them and Christianity in the matter of time.
In that sense the Moslems in Asia are merely like the Nestorians in
Asia. Islam, historically speaking, is the greatest of the Eastern
heresies. It owed something to the quite isolated and unique
individuality of Israel; but it owed more to Byzantium and the
theological enthusiasm of Christendom. It owed something even to the
Crusades. It owed nothing whatever to Asia. It owed nothing to the
atmosphere of the ancient and traditional world of Asia, with its
immemorial etiquette and its bottomless or bewildering philosophies. All
that ancient and actual Asia felt the entrance of Islam as something
foreign and western and warlike, piercing it like a spear.

Even where we might trace in dotted lines the domains of Asiatic
religions, we should probably be reading into them something dogmatic
and ethical belonging to our own religion. It is as if a European
ignorant of the American atmosphere were to suppose that each 'state'
was a separate sovereign state as patriotic as France or Poland; or that
when a Yankee referred fondly to his 'home town' he meant he had no
other nation, like a citizen of ancient Athens or Rome. As he would be
reading a particular sort of loyalty into America, so we are reading a
particular sort of loyalty into Asia. There are loyalties of other
kinds; but not what men in the West mean by being a believer, by trying
to be a Christian, by being a good Protestant or a practising Catholic.
In the intellectual world it means something far more vague and varied
by doubts and speculations. In the moral world it means something far
more loose and drifting. A professor of Persian at one of our great
universities, so passionate a partisan of the East as practically to
profess a contempt for the West, said to a friend of mine: 'You will
never understand oriental religions, because you always conceive
religion as connected with ethics. This kind has really nothing to do
with ethics.' We have most of us known some Masters of the Higher
Wisdom, some Pilgrims upon the Path to Power, some eastern esoteric
saints and seers, who had really nothing to do with ethics. Something
different, something detached and irresponsible, tinges the moral
atmosphere of Asia and touches even that of Islam. It was very
realistically caught in the atmosphere of Hassan; and a very horrible
atmosphere too. It is even more vivid in such glimpses as we get of the
genuine and ancient cults of Asia. Deeper than the depths of
metaphysics, far down in the abysses of mystical meditations under all
that solemn universe of spiritual things, is a secret, an intangible and
a terrible levity. It does not really very much matter what one does.
Either because they do not believe in a devil, or because they do
believe in a destiny, or because experience here is everything and
eternal life something totally different, but for some reason they are
totally different. I have read somewhere that there were three great
friends famous in medieval Persia for their unity of mind. One became
the responsible and respected Vizier of the Great King; the second was
the poet Omar, pessimist and epicurean, drinking wine in mockery of
Mahomet; the third was the Old Man of the Mountain who maddened his
people with hashish that they might murder other people with daggers. It
does not really much matter what one does.

The Sultan in Hassan would have understood all those three men; indeed
he was all those three men. But this sort of universalist cannot have
what we call a character; it is what we call a chaos. He cannot choose;
he cannot fight; he cannot repent; he cannot hope. He is not in the same
sense creating something; for creation means rejection. He is not, in
our religious phrase, making his soul. For our doctrine of salvation
does really mean a labour like that of a man trying to make a statue
beautiful; a victory with wings. For that there must be a final choice,
for a man cannot make statues without rejecting stone. And there really
is this ultimate unmorality behind the metaphysics of Asia. And the
reason is that there has been nothing through all those unthinkable ages
to bring the human mind sharply to the point; to tell it that the time
has come to choose. The mind has lived too much in eternity. The soul
has been too immortal, in the special sense that it ignores the idea of
mortal sin. It has had too much of eternity, in the sense that it has
not had enough of the hour of death and the day of judgement. It is not
crucial enough; in the literal sense that it has not had enough of the
cross. That is what we mean when we say that Asia is very old. But
strictly speaking Europe is quite as old as Asia; indeed in a sense any
place is as old as any other place. What we mean is that Europe has not
merely gone on growing older. It has been born again.

Asia is all humanity; as it has worked out its human doom. Asia, in its
vast territory, in its varied populations, in its heights of past
achievement and its depths of dark speculation, is itself a world; and
represents something of what we mean when we speak of the world. It is a
cosmos rather than a continent. It is the world as man has made it; and
contains many of the most wonderful things that man has made. Therefore
Asia stands as the one representative of paganism and the one rival to
Christendom. But everywhere else where we get glimpses of that mortal
destiny, they suggest stages in the same story. Where Asia trails away
into the southern archipelagoes of the savages, or where a darkness full
of nameless shapes dwells in the heart of Africa, or where the last
survivors of lost races linger in the cold volcano of prehistoric
America, it is all the same story; sometimes perhaps later chapters of
the same story. It is men entangled in the forest of their own
mythology; it is men drowned in the sea of their own metaphysics.
Polytheists have grown weary of the wildest of fictions. Monotheists
have grown weary of the most wonderful of truths. Diabolists here and
there have such a hatred of heaven and earth that they have tried to
take refuge in hell. It is the Fall of Man; and it is exactly that fall
that was being felt by our own fathers at the first moment of the Roman
decline. We also were going down that side road; down that easy slope;
following the magnificent procession of the high civilisations of the

If the Church had not entered the world then, it seems probable that
Europe would be now very much what Asia is now. Something may be allowed
for a real difference of race and environment, visible in the ancient as
in the modern world. But after all we talk about the changeless East
very largely because it has not suffered the great change. Paganism in
its last phase showed considerable signs of be coming equally
changeless. This would not mean that new schools or sects of philosophy
would not arise; as new schools did arise in Antiquity and do arise in
Asia. It does not mean that there would be no real mystics or
visionaries; as there were mystics in Antiquity and are mystics in Asia.
It does not mean that there would be no social codes, as there were
codes in Antiquity and are codes in Asia. It does not mean that there
could not be good men or happy lives, for God has given all men a
conscience and conscience can give all men a kind of peace. But it does
mean that the tone and proportion of all these things, and especially
the proportion of good and evil things, would be in the unchanged West
what they are in the changeless East. And nobody who looks at that
changeless East honestly, and with a real sympathy, can believe that
there is anything there remotely resembling the challenge and revolution
of the Faith.

In short, if classic paganism had lingered until now, a number of things
might well have lingered with it; and they would look very like what we
call the religions of the East. There would still be Pythagoreans
teaching reincarnation, as there are still Hindus teaching
reincarnation. There would still be Stoics making a religion out of
reason and virtue, as there are still Confucians making a religion out
of reason and virtue. There would still be Neo-Platonists studying
transcendental truths, the meaning of which was mysterious to other
people and disputed even amongst themselves; as the Buddhists still
study a transcendentalism mysterious to others and disputed among
themselves. There would still be intelligent Apollonians apparently
worshipping the sun-god but explaining that they were worshipping the
divine principle; just as there are still intelligent Parsees apparently
worshipping the sun but explaining that they are worshipping the deity.
There would still be wild Dionysians dancing on the mountain as there
are still wild Dervishes dancing in the desert. There would still be
crowds of people attending the popular feasts of the gods, in pagan
Europe as in pagan Asia. There would still be crowds of gods, local and
other, for them to worship. And there would still be a great many more
people who worshipped them than people who believed in them. Finally
there would still be a very large number of people who did worship gods
and did believe in gods; and who believed in gods and worshipped gods
simply because they were demons. There would still be Levantines
secretly sacrificing to Moloch as there are still Thugs secretly
sacrificing to Kalee. There would still be a great deal of magic; and a
great deal of it would be black magic. There would still be a
considerable admiration of Seneca and a considerable imitation of Nero;
just as the exalted epigrams of Confucius could coexist with the
tortures of China. And over all that tangled forest of traditions
growing wild or withering would brood the broad silence of a singular
and even nameless mood; but the nearest name of it is nothing. All these
things, good and bad, would have an indescribable air of being too old
to die.

None of these things occupying Europe in the absence of Christendom
would bear the least likeness to Christendom. Since the Pythagorean
Metempsychosis would still be there, we might call it the Pythagorean
religion as we talk about the Buddhist religion. As the noble maxims of
Socrates would still be there, we might call it the Socratic religion as
we talk about the Confucian religion. As the popular holiday was still
marked by a mythological hymn to Adonis, we might call it the religion
of Adonis as we talk about the religion of Juggernaut. As literature
would still be based on the Greek mythology, we might call that
mythology a religion, as we call the Hindu mythology a religion. We
might say that there were so many thousands or millions of people
belonging to that religion, in the sense of frequenting such temples or
merely living in a land full of such temples. But if we called the last
tradition of Pythagoras or the lingering legend of Adonis by the name of
a religion, then we must find some other name for the Church of Christ.

If anybody says that philosophic maxims presented through many ages, or
mythological temples frequented by many people, are things of the same
class and category as the Church, it is enough to answer quite simply
that they are not. Nobody thinks they are the same when he sees them in
the old civilisation of Greece and Rome; nobody would think they were
the same if that civilisation had lasted two thousand years longer and
existed at the present day; nobody can in reason think they are the same
in the parallel pagan civilisation in the East, as it is at the present
day. None of these philosophies or mythologies are anything like a
Church; certainly nothing like a Church Militant. And, as I have shown
elsewhere, even if this rule were not already proved, the exception
would prove the rule. The rule is that pre-Christian or pagan history
does not produce a Church Militant; and the exception, or what some
would call the exception, is that Islam is at least militant if it is
not Church. And that is precisely because Islam is the one religious
rival that is not pre-Christian and therefore not in that sense pagan.
Islam was a product of Christianity; even if it was a by-product; even
if it was a bad product. It was a heresy or parody emulating and
therefore imitating the Church. It is no more surprising that
Mahomedanism had something of her fighting spirit than that Quakerism
had something of her peaceful spirit. After Christianity there are any
number of such emulations or extensions. Before it there are none.

The Church Militant is thus unique because it is an army marching to
effect a universal deliverance. The bondage from which the world is thus
to be delivered is something that is very well symbolised by the state
of Asia as by the state of pagan Europe. I do not mean merely their
moral or immoral state. The missionary, as a matter of fact, has much
more to say for himself than the enlightened imagine even when he says
that the heathen are idolatrous and immoral. A touch or two of realistic
experience about Eastern religion, even about Moslem religion, will
reveal some startling insensibilities in ethics; such as the practical
indifference to the line between passion and perversion. It is not
prejudice but practical experience which says that Asia is full of
demons as well as gods. But the evil I mean is in the mind. And it is in
the mind wherever the mind has worked for a long time alone. It is what
happens when all dreaming and thinking have come to an end in an
emptiness that is at once negation and necessity. It sounds like an
anarchy, but it is also a slavery. It is what has been called already
the wheel of Asia; all those recurrent arguments about cause and effect
or things beginning and ending in the mind, which make it impossible for
the soul really to strike out and go anywhere or do anything. And the
point is that it is not necessarily peculiar to Asiatics; it would have
been true in the end of Europeans--if something had not happened. If the
Church Militant had not been a thing marching, all men would have been
marking time. If the Church Militant had not endured a discipline, all
men would have endured a slavery.

What that universal yet fighting faith brought into the world was hope.
Perhaps the one thing common to mythology and philosophy was that both
were really sad; in the sense that they had not this hope even if they
had touches of faith or charity. We may call Buddhism a faith; though to
us it seems more like a doubt. We may call the Lord of Compassion a Lord
of Charity, though it seems to us a very pessimist sort of pity. But
those who insist most on the antiquity and size of such cults must agree
that in all their ages they have not covered all their areas with that
sort of practical and pugnacious hope. In Christendom hope has never
been absent; rather it has been errant, extravagant, excessively fixed
upon fugitive chances. Its perpetual revolution and reconstruction has
at least been an evidence of people being in better spirits. Europe did
very truly renew its youth like the eagles; just as the eagles of Rome
rose again over the legions of Napoleon, or we have seen soaring but
yesterday the silver eagle of Poland. But in the Polish case ever
revolution always went with religion. Napoleon himself sought a
reconciliation with religion. Religion could never be finally separated
even from the most hostile of the hopes; simply because it was the very
source of the hopefulness. And the cause of this is to be found simply
in the religion itself. Those who quarrel about it seldom even consider
it in itself. There is neither space nor place for such a full
consideration here; but a word may be said to explain a reconciliation
that always recurs and still seems to require explanation.

There will be no end to the weary debates about liberalising theology,
until people face the fact that the only liberal part of it is really
the dogmatic part. If dogma is incredible, it is because it is
incredibly liberal. If it is irrational, it can only be in giving us
more assurance of freedom than is justified by reason. The obvious
example is that essential form of freedom which we call free-will. It is
absurd to say that a man shows his liberality in denying his liberty.
But it is tenable that he has to affirm a transcendental doctrine in
order to affirm his liberty. There is a sense in which we might
reasonably say that if man has a primary power of choice, he has in that
fact a super-natural power of creation, as if he could raise the dead or
give birth to the unbegotten. Possibly in that case a man must be a
miracle; and certainly in that case he must be a miracle in order to be
a man; and most certainly in order to be a free man. But it is absurd to
forbid him to be a free man and do it in the name of a more free

But it is true in twenty other matters. Anybody who believes at all in
God must believe in the absolute supremacy of God. But in so far as that
supremacy does allow of any degrees that can be called liberal or
illiberal, it is self-evident that the illiberal power is the deity of
the rationalists and the liberal power is the deity of the dogmatists.
Exactly in proportion as you turn monotheism into monism you turn it
into despotism. It is precisely the unknown God of the scientist, with
his impenetrable purpose and his inevitable and unalterable law, that
reminds us of a Prussian autocrat making rigid plans in a remote tent
and moving mankind like machinery. It is precisely the God of miracles
and of answered prayers who reminds us of a liberal and popular prince,
receiving petitions, listening to parliaments and considering the cases
of a whole people. I am not now arguing the rationality of this
conception in other respects; as a matter of fact it is not, as some
suppose, irrational; for there is nothing irrational in the wisest and
most well-informed king acting differently according to the action of
those he wishes to save. But I am here only noting the general nature of
liberality, or of free or enlarged atmosphere of action. And in this
respect it is certain that the king can only be what we call magnanimous
if he is what some call capricious. It is the Catholic, who has the
feeling that his prayers do make a difference, when offered for the
living and the dead, who also has the feeling of living like a free
citizen in something almost like a constitutional commonwealth. It is
the monist who lives under a single iron law who must have the feeling
of living like a slave under a sultan. Indeed I believe that the
original use of the word suffragium, which we now use in politics for a
vote, was that employed in theology about a prayer. The dead in
Purgatory were said to have the suffrages of the living. And in this
sense, of a sort of right of petition to the supreme ruler, we may truly
say that the whole of the Communion of Saints, as well as the whole of
the Church Militant, is founded on universal suffrage.

But above all, it is true of the most tremendous issue; of that tragedy
which has created the divine comedy of our creed. Nothing short of the
extreme and strong and startling doctrine of the divinity of Christ will
give that particular effect that can truly stir the popular sense like a
trumpet; the idea of the king himself serving in the ranks like a common
soldier. By making that figure merely human we make that story much less
human. We take away the point of the story which actually pierces
humanity; the point of the story which was quite literally the point of
a spear. It does not especially humanise the universe to say that good
and wise men can die for their opinions; any more than it would be any
sort of uproariously popular news in an army that good soldiers may
easily get killed. It is no news that King Leonidas is dead any more
than that Queen Anne is dead; and men did not wait for Christianity to
be men, in the full sense of being heroes. But if we are describing, for
the moment, the atmosphere of what is generous and popular and even
picturesque, any knowledge of human nature will tell us that no
sufferings of the sons of men, or even of the servants of God, strike
the same note as the notion of the master suffering instead of his
servants. And this is given by the theological and emphatically not by
the scientific deity. No mysterious monarch, hidden in his starry
pavilion at the base of the cosmic campaign, is in the least like that
celestial chivalry of the Captain who carries his five wounds in the
front of battle.

What the denouncer of dogma really means is not that dogma is bad; but
rather that dogma is too good to be true. That is, he means that dogma
is too liberal to be likely. Dogma gives man too much freedom when it
permits him to fall. Dogma gives even God too much freedom when it
permits him to die. That is what the intelligent sceptics ought to say;
and it is not in the least my intention to deny that there is something
to be said for it. They mean that the universe is itself a universal
prison; that existence itself is a limitation and a control; and it is
not for nothing that they call causation a chain. In a word, they mean
quite simply that they cannot believe these things; not in the least
that they are unworthy of belief. We say not lightly but very literally,
that the truth has made us free. They say that it makes us so free that
it cannot be the truth. To them it is like believing in fairyland to
believe in such freedom as we enjoy. It is like believing in men with
wings to entertain the fancy of men with wills. It is like accepting a
fable about a squirrel in conversation with a mountain to believe in a
man who is free to ask or a God who is free to answer. This is a manly
and a rational negation for which I for one shall always show respect.
But I decline to show any respect for those who first of all clip the
wings and cage the squirrel, rivet the chains and refuse the freedom,
close all the doors of the cosmic prison on us with a clang of eternal
iron, tell us that our emancipation is a dream and our dungeon a
necessity; and then calmly turn round and tell us they have a freer
thought and a more liberal theology.

The moral of all this is an old one; that religion is revelation. In
other words it is a vision, and a vision received by faith; but it is a
vision of reality. The faith consists in a conviction of its reality.
That, for example, is the difference between a vision and a day-dream.
And that is the difference between religion and mythology. That is the
difference between faith and all that fancy-work, quite human and more
or less healthy, which we considered under the head of mythology. There
is something in the reasonable use of the very word vision that implies
two things about it; first that it comes very rarely, possibly that it
comes only once; and secondly that it probably comes once and for all. A
day-dream may come every day. A day-dream may be different every day. It
is something more than the difference between telling ghost-stories and
meeting a ghost.

But if it is not a mythology neither is it a philosophy. It is not a
philosophy because, being a vision, it is not a pattern but a picture.
It is not one of those simplifications which resolve everything into an
abstract explanation; as that everything is recurrent; or everything is
relative; or everything is inevitable; or everything is illusive. It is
not a process but a story. It has proportions, of the sort seen in a
picture or a story; it has not the regular repetitions of a pattern or a
process; but it replaces them by being convincing as a picture or a
story is convincing. In other words, it is exactly, as the phrase goes,
like life. For indeed it is life. An example of what is meant here might
well be found in the treatment of the problem of evil. It is easy enough
to make a plan of life of which the background is black, as the
pessimists do; and then admit a speck or two of star-dust more or less
accidental, or at least in the literal sense insignificant. And it is
easy enough to make another plan on white paper, as the Christian
Scientists do, and explain or explain away somehow such dots or smudges
as may be difficult to deny. Lastly it is easiest of all perhaps, to say
as the dualists do, that life is like a chess-board in which the two are
equal, and can as truly be said to consist of white squares on a black
board or of black squares on a white board. But every man feels in his
heart that none of these three paper plans is like life; that none of
these worlds is one in which he can live. Something tells him that the
ultimate idea of a world is not bad or even neutral; staring at the sky
or the grass or the truths of mathematics or even a new-laid egg, he has
a vague feeling like the shadow of that saying of the great Christian
philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas, 'Every existence, as such, is good.' On
the other hand, something else tells him that it is unmanly and debased
and even diseased to minimise evil to a dot or even a blot. He realises
that optimism is morbid. It is if possible even more morbid than
pessimism. These vague but healthy feelings, if he followed them out,
would result in the idea that evil is in some way an exception but an
enormous exception; and ultimately that evil is an invasion or yet more
truly a rebellion. He does not think that everything is right or that
every thing is wrong, or that everything is equally right and wrong. But
he does think that right has a right to be right and therefore a right
to be there, and wrong has no right to be wrong and therefore no right
to be there. It is the prince of the world; but it is also a usurper. So
he will apprehend vaguely what the vision will give to him vividly; no
less than all that strange story of treason in heaven and the great
desertion by which evil damaged and tried to destroy a cosmos that it
could not create. It is a very strange story and its proportions and its
lines and colours are as arbitrary and absolute as the artistic
composition of a picture. It is a vision which we do in fact symbolise
in pictures by titanic limbs and passionate tints of plumage; all that
abysmal vision of falling stars and the peacock panoplies of the night.
But that strange story has one small advantage over the diagrams. It is
like life.

Another example might be found, not in the problem of evil, but in what
is called the problem of progress. One of the ablest agnostics of the
age once asked me whether I thought mankind grew better or grew worse or
remained the same. He was confident that the alternative covered all
possibilities. He did not see that it only covered patterns and not
pictures; processes and not stories. I asked him whether he thought that
Mr. Smith of Golder's Green got better or worse or remained exactly the
same between the age of thirty and forty. It then seemed to dawn on him
that it would rather depend on Mr. Smith; and how he chose to go on. It
had never occurred to him that it might depend on how mankind chose to
go on; and that its course was not a straight line or an upward or
downward curve, but a track like that of a man across a valley, going
where he liked and stopping where he chose, going into a church or
falling down in a ditch. The life of man is a story; an adventure story;
and in our vision the same is true even of the story of God.

The Catholic faith is the reconciliation because it is the realisation
both of mythology and philosophy. It is a story and in that sense one of
a hundred stories; only it is a true story. It is a philosophy and in
that sense one of a hundred philosophies; only it is a philosophy that
is like life. But above all, it is a reconciliation because it is
something that can only be called the philosophy of stories. That normal
narrative instinct which produced all the fairy tales is something that
is neglected by all the philosophies--except one. The Faith is the
justification of that popular instinct; the finding of a philosophy for
it or the analysis of the philosophy in it. Exactly as a man in an
adventure story has to pass various tests to save his life, so the man
in this philosophy has to pass several tests and save his soul. In both
there is an idea of free will operating under conditions of design; in
other words, there is an aim and it is the business of a man to aim at
it; we therefore watch to see whether he will hit it. Now this deep and
democratic and dramatic instinct is derided and dismissed in all the
other philosophies. For all the other philosophies avowedly end where
they begin; and it is the definition of a story that it ends
differently; that it begins in one place and ends in another. From
Buddha and his wheel to Akhen Aten and his disc, from Pythagoras with
his abstraction of number to Confucius with his religion of routine,
there is not one of them that does not in some way sin against the soul
of a story. There is none of them that really grasps this human notion
of the tale, the test, the adventure; the ordeal of the free man. Each
of them starves the story-telling instinct, so to speak, and does
something to spoil human life considered as a romance; either by
fatalism (pessimist or optimist) and that destiny that is the death of
adventure; or by indifference and that detachment that is the death of
drama; or by a fundamental scepticism that dissolves the actors into
atoms; or by a materialistic limitation blocking the vista of moral
consequences; or a mechanical recurrence making even moral tests
monotonous; or a bottomless relativity making even practical tests
insecure. There is such a thing as a human story; and there is such a
thing as the divine story which is also a human story; but there is no
such thing as a Hegelian story or a Monist story or a relativist story
or a determinist story; for every story, yes, even a penny dreadful or a
cheap novelette, has something in it that belongs to our universe and
not theirs. Every short story does truly begin with creation and end
with a last judgement.

And that is the reason why the myths and the philosophers were at war
until Christ came. That is why the Athenian democracy killed Socrates
out of respect for the gods; and why every strolling sophist gave
himself the airs of a Socrates whenever he could talk in a superior
fashion of the gods; and why the heretic Pharaoh wrecked his huge idols
and temples for an abstraction and why the priests could return in
triumph and trample his dynasty under foot; and why Buddhism had to
divide itself from Brahminism, and why in every age and country outside
Christendom there has been a feud for ever between the philosopher and
the priest. It is easy enough to say that the philosopher is generally
the more rational; it is easier still to forget that the priest is
always the more popular. For the priest told the people stories; and the
philosopher did not understand the philosophy of stories. It came into
the world with the story of Christ.

And this is why it had to be a revelation or vision given from above.
Any one who will think of the theory of stories or pictures will easily
see the point. The true story of the world must be told by somebody to
somebody else. By the very nature of a story it cannot be left to occur
to anybody. A story has proportions, variations, surprises, particular
dispositions, which cannot be worked out by rule in the abstract, like a
sum. We could not deduce whether or no Achilles would give back the body
of Hector from a Pythagorean theory of number or recurrence; and we
could not infer for ourselves in what way the world would get back the
body of Christ, merely from being told that all things go round and
round upon the wheel of Buddha. A man might perhaps work out a
proposition of Euclid without having heard of Euclid; but he would not
work out the precise legend of Eurydice without having heard of
Eurydice. At any rate he would not be certain how the story would end
and whether Orpheus was ultimately defeated. Still less could he guess
the end of our story; or the legend of our Orpheus rising, not defeated
from, the dead.

To sum up; the sanity of the world was restored and the soul of man
offered salvation by something which did indeed satisfy the two warring
tendencies of the past; which had never been satisfied in full and most
certainly never satisfied together. It met the mythological search for
romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being
a true story. That is why the ideal figure had to be a historical
character, as nobody had ever felt Adonis or Pan to be a historical
character. But that is also why the historical character had to be the
ideal figure; and even fulfil many of the functions given to these other
ideal figures; why he was at once the sacrifice and the feast, why he
could be shown under the emblems of the growing vine or the rising sun.
The more deeply we think of the matter the more we shall conclude that,
if there be indeed a God, his creation could hardly have reached any
other culmination than this granting of a real romance to the world.
Otherwise the two sides of the human mind could never have touched at
all; and the brain of man would have remained cloven and double; one
lobe of it dreaming impossible dreams and the other repeating invariable
calculations. The picture-makers would have remained forever painting
the portrait of nobody. The sages would have remained for ever adding up
numerals that came to nothing. It was that abyss that nothing but an
incarnation could cover; a divine embodiment of our dreams; and he
stands above that chasm whose name is more than priest and older even
than Christendom; Pontifex Maximus, the mightiest maker of a bridge.

But even with that we return to the more specially Christian symbol in
the same tradition; the perfect pattern of the keys. This is a
historical and not a theological outline, and it is not my duty here to
defend in detail that theology, but merely to point out that it could
not even be justified in design without being justified in detail--like
a key. Beyond the broad suggestion of this chapter I attempt no
apologetic about why the creed should be accepted. But in answer to the
historical query of why it was accepted and is accepted, I answer for
millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock, because it is
like life. It is one among many stories; only it happens to be a true
story. It is one among many philosophies; only it happens to be the
truth. We accept it; and the ground is solid under our feet and the road
is open before us. It does not imprison us in a dream of destiny or a
consciousness of the universal delusion. It opens to us not only
incredible heavens but what seems to some an equally incredible earth,
and makes it credible. This is the sort of truth that is hard to explain
because it is a fact; but it is a fact to which we can call witnesses.
We are Christians and Catholics not because we worship a key, but
because we have passed a door; and felt the wind that is the trumpet of
liberty blow over the land of the living.

* * *



It is not the purpose of this book to trace the subsequent history of
Christianity, especially the later history of Christianity; which
involves controversies of which I hope to write more fully elsewhere. It
is devoted only to the suggestion that Christianity, appearing amid
heathen humanity, had all the character of a unique thing and even of a
supernatural thing. It was not like any of the other things; and the
more we study it the less it looks like any of them. But there is a
certain rather peculiar character which marked it henceforward even down
to the present moment, with a note on which this book may well conclude.

I have said that Asia and the ancient world had an air of being too old
to die. Christendom has had the very opposite fate. Christendom has had
a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died.
Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who
knew the way out of the grave. But the first extraordinary fact which
marks this history is this: that Europe has been turned upside down over
and over again; and that at the end of each of these revolutions the
same religion has again been found on top. The Faith is always
converting the age, not as an old religion but as a new religion. This
truth is hidden from many by a convention that is too little noticed.
Curiously enough, it is a convention of the sort which those who ignore
it claim especially to detect and denounce. They are always telling us
that priests and ceremonies are not religion and that religious
organisation can be a hollow sham, but they hardly realise how true it
is. It is so true that three or four times at least in the history of
Christendom the whole soul seemed to have gone out of Christianity; and
almost every man in his heart expected its end. This fact is only masked
in medieval and other times by that very official religion which such
critics pride themselves on seeing through. Christianity remained the
official religion of a Renaissance prince or the official religion of an
eighteenth-century bishop, just as an ancient mythology remained the
official religion of Julius Caesar or the Arian creed long remained the
official religion of Julian the Apostate. But there was a difference
between the cases of Julius and of Julian; because the Church had begun
its strange career. There was no reason why men like Julius should not
worship gods like Jupiter for ever in public and laugh at them for ever
in private. But when Julian treated Christianity as dead, he found it
had come to life again. He also found, incidentally, that there was not
the faintest sign of Jupiter ever coming to life again. This case of
Julian and the episode of Arianism is but the first of a series of
examples that can only be roughly indicated here. Arianism, as has been
said, had every human appearance of being the natural way in which that
particular superstition of Constantine might be expected to peter out.
All the ordinary stages had been passed through; the creed had become a
respectable thing, had become a ritual thing, had then been modified
into a rational thing; and the rationalists were ready to dissipate the
last remains of it, just as they do to-day. When Christianity rose again
suddenly and threw them, it was almost as unexpected as Christ rising
from the dead. But there are many other examples of the same thing, even
about the same time. The rush of missionaries from Ireland, For
instance, has all the air of an unexpected onslaught of young men on an
old world, and even on a Church that showed signs of growing old. Some
of them were martyred on the coast of Cornwall; and the chief authority
on Cornish antiquities told me that he did not believe for a moment that
they were martyred by heathens but (as he expressed it with some humour)
'by rather slack Christians.'

Now if we were to dip below the surface of history, as it is not in the
scope of this argument to do, I suspect that we should find several
occasions when Christendom was thus to all appearance hollowed out from
within by doubt and indifference, so that only the old Christian shell
stood as the pagan shell had stood so long. But the difference is that
in every such case, the sons were fanatical for the faith where the
fathers had been slack about it. This is obvious in the case of the
transition from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation. It is
obvious in the case of a transition from the eighteenth century to the
many Catholic revivals of our own time. But I suspect many other
examples which would be worthy of separate studies.

The Faith is not a survival. It is not as if the Druids had managed
somehow to survive somewhere for two thousand years. That is what might
have happened in Asia or ancient Europe, in that indifference or
tolerance in which mythologies and philosophies could live for ever side
by side. It has not survived; it has returned again and again in this
Western world of rapid change and institutions perpetually perishing.
Europe, in the tradition of Rome, was always trying revolution and
reconstruction; rebuilding a universal republic. And it always began by
rejecting this old stone and ended by making it the head of the corner;
by bringing it back from the rubbish-heap to make it the crown of the
capitol. Some stones of Stonehenge are standing and some are fallen; and
as the stone falleth so shall it lie. There has not been a Druidic
renaissance every century or two, with the young Druids crowned with
fresh mistletoe, dancing in the sun on Salisbury Plain. Stonehenge has
not been rebuilt in every style of architecture from the rude round
Norman to the last rococo of the Baroque. The sacred place of the Druids
is safe from the vandalism of restoration.

But the Church in the West was not in a world where things were too old
to die; but in one in which they were always young enough to get killed.
The consequence was that superficially and externally it often did get
killed; nay, it sometimes wore out even without getting killed. And
there follows a fact I find it somewhat difficult to describe, yet which
I believe to be very real and rather important. As a ghost is the shadow
of a man, and in that sense the shadow of life, so at intervals there
passed across this endless life a sort of shadow of death. It came at
the moment when it would have perished had it been perishable. It
withered away everything that was perishable. If such animal parallels
were worthy of the occasion we might say that the snake shuddered and
shed a skin and went on, or even that the cat went into convulsions as
it lost only one of its nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine lives. It is truer
to say, in a more dignified image, that a clock struck and nothing
happened; or that a bell tolled for an execution that was everlastingly

What was the meaning of all that dim but vast unrest of the twelfth
century; when, as it has been so finely said, Julian stirred in his
sleep? Why did there appear so strangely early, in the twilight of dawn
after the Dark Ages, so deep a scepticism as that involved in urging
nominalism against realism? For realism against nominalism was really
realism against rationalism, or something more destructive than what we
call rationalism. The answer is that just as some might have thought the
Church simply a part of the Roman Empire, so others later might have
thought the Church only a part of the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages ended as
the Empire had ended, and the Church should have departed with them, if
she had been also one of the shades of night. It was another of those
spectral deaths or simulations of death. I mean that if nominalism had
succeeded, it would have been as if Arianism had succeeded, it would
have been the beginning of a confession that Christianity had failed.
For nominalism is a far more fundamental scepticism than mere atheism.
Such was the question that was openly asked as the Dark Ages broadened
into that daylight that we call the modern world. But what was the
answer? The answer was Aquinas in the chair of Aristotle, taking all
knowledge for his province; and tens of thousands of lads down to the
lowest ranks of peasant and serf, living in rags and on crusts about the
great colleges, to listen to the scholastic philosophy.

What was the meaning of all that whisper of fear that ran round the west
under the shadow of Islam, and fills every old romance with incongruous
images of Saracen knights swaggering in Norway or the Hebrides? Why were
men in the extreme west, such as King John if I remember rightly,
accused of being secretly Moslems, as men are accused of being secretly
atheists? Why was there that fierce alarm among some of the authorities
about the rationalistic Arab version of Aristotle? Authorities are
seldom alarmed like that except when it is too late. The answer is that
hundreds of people probably believed in their hearts that Islam would
conquer Christendom; that Averroes was more rational than Anselm; that
the Saracen Culture was really, as it was superficially, a superior
culture. Here again we should probably find a whole generation, the
older generation, serve doubtful and depressed and weary. The coming of
Islam would only have been the coming of Unitarianism a thousand years
before its time. To many it may have seemed quite reasonable and quite
probable and quite likely to happen. If so, they would have been
surprised at what did happen. What did happen was a roar like thunder
from thousands and thousands of young men, throwing all their youth into
one exultant counter-charge, the Crusades. It was the sons of St.
Francis, the Jugglers of God, wandering singing over all the roads of
the world; it was the Gothic going up like a flight of arrows; it was
the waking of the world. In considering the war of the Albigensians, we
come to the breach in the heart of Europe and the landslide of a new
philosophy that nearly ended Christendom for ever. In that case the new
philosophy was also a very new philosophy; it was pessimism. It was none
the less like modern ideas because it was as old as Asia; most modern
ideas are. It was the Gnostics returning; but why did the Gnostics
return? Because it was the end of an epoch, like the end of the Empire;
and should have been the end of the Church. It was Schopenhauer hovering
over the future; but it was also Manichaeus rising from the dead; that
men might have death and that they might have it more abundantly.

It is rather more obvious in the case of the Renaissance, simply because
the period is so much nearer to us and people know so much more about
it. But there is more even in that example than most people know. Apart
from the particular controversies which I wish to reserve for a separate
study, the period was far more chaotic that those controversies commonly
imply. When Protestants call Latimer a martyr to Protestantism, and
Catholics reply that Campion was a martyr to Catholicism, it is often
forgotten that many who perished in such persecutions could only be
described as martyrs to atheism or anarchism or even diabolism. That
world was almost as wild as our own; the men wandering about in it
included the sort of man who says there is no God, the sort of man who
says he is himself God, the sort of man who says something that nobody
can make head or tail of. If we could have the conversation of the age
following the Renaissance, we should probably be shocked by its
shameless negations. The remarks attributed to Marlowe are probably
pretty typical of the talk in many intellectual taverns. The transition
from Pre-Reformation to Post-Reformation Europe was through a void of
very yawning questions; yet again in the long run the answer was the
same. It was one of those moments when, as Christ walked on the water,
so was Christianity walking in the air.

But all these cases are remote in date and could only be proved in
detail. We can see the fact much more clearly in the case when the
paganism of the Renaissance ended Christianity and Christianity
unaccountably began all over again. But we can see it most clearly of
all in the case which is close to us and full of manifest and minute
evidence; the case of the great decline of religion that began about the
time of Voltaire. For indeed it is our own case, and we ourselves have
seen the decline of that decline. The two hundred years since Voltaire
do not flash past us at a glance like the fourth and fifth centuries or
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In our own case we can see this
oft-repeated process close at hand; we know how completely a society can
lose its fundamental religion without abolishing its official religion;
we know how men can all become agnostics long before they abolish
bishops. And we know that also in this last ending, which really did
look to us like the final ending, the incredible thing has happened
again; the Faith has a better following among the young men than among
the old. When Ibsen spoke of the new generation knocking at the door, he
certainly never expected that it would be the church-door.

At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with
the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to
all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the
dog that died. How complete was the collapse and how strange the
reversal we can only see in detail in the case nearest to our own time.

A thousand things have been said about the Oxford Movement and the
parallel French Catholic revival; but few have made us feel the simplest
fact about it; that it was a surprise. It was a puzzle as well as a
surprise; because it seemed to most people like a river turning
backwards from the sea and trying to climb back into the mountains. To
have read the literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is
to know that nearly everybody had come to take it for granted that
religion was a thing that would continually broaden like a river, till
it reached an infinite sea. Some of them expected it to go down in a
cataract of catastrophe, most of them expected it to widen into an
estuary of equality and moderation; but all of them thought its
returning on itself a prodigy as incredible as witchcraft. In other
words, most moderate people thought that faith like freedom would be
slowly broadened down, and some advanced people thought that it would be
very rapidly broadened down, not to say flattened out. All that world of
Guizot and Macaulay and the commercial and scientific liberality was
perhaps more certain than any men before or since about the direction in
which the world is going. People were so certain about the direction
that they only differed about the pace. Many anticipated with alarm, and
a few with sympathy, a Jacobin revolt that should guillotine the
Archbishop of Canterbury or a Chartist riot that should hang the parsons
on the lampposts. But it seemed like a convulsion in nature that the
Archbishop instead of losing his head should be looking for his mitre;
and that instead of diminishing the respect due to parsons we should
strengthen it to the respect due to priests. It revolutionised their
very vision of revolution; and turned their very topsyturveydom

In short, the whole world being divided about whether the stream was
going slower or faster, became conscious of something vague but vast
that was going against the stream. Both in fact and figure there is
something deeply disturbing about this, and that for an essential
reason. A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can
go against it. A dead dog can be lifted on the leaping water with all
the swiftness of a leaping hound; but only a live dog can swim
backwards. A paper boat can ride the rising deluge with all the airy
arrogance of a fairy ship, but if the fairy ship sails up stream it is
really rowed by the fairies. And among the things that merely went with
the tide of apparent progress and enlargement there was many a demagogue
or sophist whose wild gestures were in truth as lifeless as the movement
of a dead dog's limbs wavering in the eddying water; and many a
philosophy uncommonly like a paper boat, of the sort that it is not
difficult to knock into a cocked hat. But even the truly living and even
life-giving things that went with that stream did not thereby prove that
they were living or life-giving. It was this other force that was
unquestionably and unaccountably alive; the mysterious and unmeasured
energy that was thrusting back the river. That was felt to be like the
movement of some great monster; and it was none the less clearly a
living monster because most people thought it a prehistoric monster. It
was none the less an unnatural, an incongruous, and to some a comic
upheaval; as if the Great Sea Serpent had suddenly risen out of the
Round Pond--unless we consider the Sea Serpent as more likely to live in
the Serpentine. This flippant element in the fantasy must not be missed,
for it was one of the clearest testimonies to the unexpected nature of
the reversal. That age did really feel that a preposterous quality in
prehistoric animals belonged also to historic rituals; that mitres and
tiaras were like the horns or crests of antediluvian creatures; and that
appealing to a Primitive Church was like dressing up as a Primitive Man.

The world is still puzzled by that movement; but most of all because it
still moves. I have said something elsewhere of the rather random sort
of reproaches that are still directed against it and its much greater
consequences; it is enough to say here that the more such critics
reproach it the less they explain it. In a sense it is my concern here,
if not to explain it, at least to suggest the direction of the
explanation; but above all, it is my concern to point out one particular
thing about it. And that is that it had all happened before; and even
many times before.

To sum up, in so far as it is true that recent centuries have seen an
attenuation of Christian doctrine, recent centuries have only seen what
the most remote centuries have seen. And even the modern example has
only ended as the medieval and pre-medieval examples ended. It is
already clear, and grows clearer every day, that it is not going to end
in the disappearance of the diminished creed; but rather in the return
of those parts of it that had really disappeared. It is going to end as
the Arian compromise ended, as the attempts at a compromise with
Nominalism and even with Albigensianism ended. But the point to seize in
the modern case, as in all the other cases is that what returns is not
in that sense a simplified theology; not according to that view a
purified theology; it is simply theology. It is that enthusiasm for
theological studies that marked the most doctrinal ages; it is the
divine science. An old Don with D. D. after his name may have become the
typical figure of a bore; but that was because he was himself bored with
his theology, not because he was excited about it. It was precisely
because he was admittedly more interested in the Latin of Plautus than
in the Latin of Augustine, in the Greek of Xenophon than in the Greek of
Chrysostom. It was precisely because he was more interested in a dead
tradition than in a decidedly living tradition. In short, it was
precisely because he was himself a type of the time in which Christian
faith was weak. It was not because men would not hail, if they could,
the wonderful and almost wild vision of a Doctor of Divinity.

There are people who say they wish Christianity to remain as a spirit.
They mean, very literally, that they wish it to remain as a ghost. But
it is not going to remain as a ghost. What follows this process of
apparent death is not the lingerings of the shade; it is the
resurrection of the body. These people are quite prepared to shed pious
and reverential tears over the Sepulchre of the Son of Man; what they
are not prepared for is the Son of God walking once more upon the hills
of morning. These people, and indeed most people, were indeed by this
time quite accustomed to the idea that the old Christian candle-light
would fade into the light of common day. To many of them it did quite
honestly appear like that pale yellow flame of a candle when it is left
burning in daylight. It was all the more unexpected, and therefore all
the more unmistakable, that the seven branched candle-stick suddenly
towered to heaven like a miraculous tree and flamed until the sun turned
pale. But other ages have seen the day conquer the candle-light and then
the candle-light conquer the day. Again and again, before our time, men
have grown content with a diluted doctrine. And again and again there
has followed on that dilution, coming as out of the darkness in a
crimson cataract, the strength of the red original wine. And we only say
once more to-day as has been said many times by our fathers: 'Long years
and centuries ago own fathers or the founders of our people drank, as
they dreamed, of the blood of God. Long years and centuries have passed
since the strength of that giant vintage has been anything but a legend
of the age of giants. Centuries ago already is the dark time of the
second fermentation, when the wine of Catholicism turned into the
vinegar of Calvinism. Long since that bitter drink has been itself
diluted; rinsed out and washed away by the waters of oblivion and the
wave of the world. Never did we think to taste again even that bitter
tang of sincerity and the spirit, still less the richer and the sweeter
strength of the purple vineyards in our dreams of the age of gold. Day
by day and year by year we have lowered our hopes and lessened our
convictions; we have grown more and more used to seeing those vats and
vineyards overwhelmed in the water-floods and the last savour and
suggestion of that special element fading like a stain of purple upon a
sea of grey. We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a
watering down that went on for ever. But 'Thou hast kept the good wine
until now.'

This is the final fact, and it is the most extraordinary of all. The
faith has not only often died but it has often died of old age. It has
not only been often killed but it has often died a natural death; in the
sense of coming to a natural and necessary end. It is obvious that it
has survived the most savage and the most universal persecutions from
the shock of the Diocletian fury to the shock of the French Revolution.
But it has a more strange and even a more weird tenacity; it has
survived not only war but peace. It has not only died often but
degenerated often and decayed often; it has survived its own weakness
and even its own surrender. We need not repeat what is so obvious about
the beauty of the end of Christ in its wedding of youth and death. But
this is almost as if Christ had lived to the last possible span, had
been a white-haired sage of a hundred and died of natural decay, and
then had risen again rejuvenated, with trumpets and the rending of the
sky. It was said truly enough that human Christianity in its recurrent
weakness was sometimes too much wedded to the powers of the world; but
if it was wedded it has very often been widowed. It is a strangely
immortal sort of widow. An enemy may have said at one moment that it was
but an aspect of the power of the Caesars; and it sounds as strange
to-day as to call it an aspect of the Pharaohs. An enemy might say that
it was the official faith of feudalism; and it sounds as convincing now
as to say that it was bound to perish with the ancient Roman villa. All
these things did indeed run their course to its normal end; and there
seemed no course for the religion but to end with them. It ended and it
began again.

'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.'
The civilisation of antiquity was the whole world: and men no more
dreamed of its ending than of the ending of daylight. They could not
imagine another order unless it were in another world. The civilisation
of the world has passed away and those words have not passed away. In
the long night of the Dark Ages feudalism was so familiar a thing that
no man could imagine himself without a lord: and religion was so woven
into that network that no man would have believed they could be torn
asunder. Feudalism itself was torn to rags and rotted away in the
popular life of the true Middle Ages; and the first and freshest power
in that new freedom was the old religion. Feudalism had passed away, and
the words did not pass away. The whole medieval order, in many ways so
complete and almost cosmic a home for man, wore out gradually in its
turn and here at least it was thought that the words would die. They
went forth across the radiant abyss of the Renaissance and in fifty
years were using all its light and learning for new religious
foundations, new apologetics, new saints. It was supposed to have been
withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was
supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of
Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History
disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future.
To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it

If our social relations and records retain their continuity, if men
really learn to apply reason to the accumulating facts of so crushing a
story, it would seem that sooner or later even its enemies will learn
from their incessant and interminable disappointments not to look for
anything so simple as its death. They may continue to war with it, but
it will be as they war with nature; as they war with the landscape, as
they war with the skies. 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words
shall not pass away.' They will watch for it to stumble; they will watch
for it to err; they will no longer watch for it to end. Insensibly, even
unconsciously, they will in their own silent anticipations fulfil the
relative terms of that astounding prophecy; they will forget to watch
for the mere extinction of what has so often been vainly extinguished;
and will learn instinctively to look first for the coming of the comet
or the freezing of the star.

* * *



I have taken the liberty once or twice of borrowing the excellent phrase
about an Outline of History; though this study of a special truth and a
special error can of course claim no sort of comparison with the rich
and many-sided encyclopedia of history, for which that name was chosen.
And yet there is a certain reason in the reference: and a sense in which
the one thing touches and even cuts across the other. For the story of
the world as told by Mr. Wells could here only be criticised as an
outline. And, strangely enough, it seems to me that it is only wrong as
an outline. It is admirable as an accumulation of history; it is
splendid as a store-house or treasure of history; it is a fascinating
disquisition on history; it is most attractive as an amplification of
history; but it is quite false as an outline of history. The one thing
that seems to me quite wrong about it is the outline; the sort of
outline that can really be a single line, like that which makes all the
difference between a caricature of the profile of Mr. Winston Churchill
and of Sir Alfred Mond. In simple and homely language, I mean the things
that stick out; the things that make the simplicity of a silhouette. I
think the proportions are wrong; the proportions of what is certain as
compared with what is uncertain, of what played a great part as compared
with what played a smaller part, of what is ordinary and what is
extraordinary, of what really lies level with an average and what stands
out as an exception.

I do not say it as a small criticism of a great writer, and I have no
reason to do so; for in my own much smaller task I feel I have failed in
very much the same way. I am very doubtful whether I have conveyed to
the reader the main point I meant about the proportions of history, and
why I have dwelt so much more on some things than others. I doubt
whether I have clearly fulfilled the plan that I set out in the
introductory chapter; and for that reason I add these lines as a sort of
summary in a concluding chapter. I do believe that the things on which I
have insisted are more essential to an outline of history than the
things which I have subordinated or dismissed. I do not believe that the
past is most truly pictured as a thing in which humanity merely fades
away into nature, or civilisation merely fades away into barbarism, or
religion fades away into mythology, or our own religion fades away into
the religions of the world. In short I do not believe that the best way
to produce an outline of history is to rub out the lines. I believe
that, of the two, it would be far nearer the truth to tell the tale very
simply, like a primitive myth about a man who made the sun and stars or
a god who entered the body of a sacred monkey. I will therefore sum up
all that has gone before in what seems to me a realistic and reasonably
proportioned statement; the short story of mankind.

In the land lit by that neighbouring star, whose blaze is the broad
daylight, there are many and very various things motionless and moving.
There moves among them a race that is in its relation to others a race
of gods. The fact is not lessened but emphasised because it can behave
like a race of demons. Its distinction is not an individual illusion,
like one bird pluming itself on its own plumes; it is a solid and a
many-sided thing. It is demonstrated in the very speculations that have
led to its being denied. That men, the gods of this lower world, are
linked with it in various ways is true; but it is another aspect of the
same truth. That they grow as the grass grows and walk as the beasts
walk is a secondary necessity that sharpens the primary distinction. It
is like saying that a magician must after all have the appearance of a
man; or that even the fairies could not dance without feet. It has
lately been the fashion to focus the mind entirely on these mild and
subordinate resemblances and to forget the main fact altogether. It is
customary to insist that man resembles the other creatures. Yes; and
that very resemblance he alone can see. The fish does not trace the
fish-bone pattern in the fowls of the air; or the elephant and the emu
compare skeletons. Even in the sense in which man is at one with the
universe it is an utterly lonely universality. The very sense that he is
united with all things is enough to sunder him from all.

Looking around him by this unique light, as lonely as the literal flame
that he alone has kindled, this demigod or demon of the visible world
makes that world visible. He sees around him a world of a certain style
or type. It seems to proceed by certain rules or at least repetitions.
He sees a green architecture that builds itself without visible hands;
but which builds itself into a very exact plan or pattern, like a design
already drawn in the air by an invisible finger. It is not, as is now
vaguely suggested, a vague thing. It is not a growth or a groping of
blind life. Each seeks an end; a glorious and radiant end, even for
every daisy or dandelion we see in looking across the level of a common
field. In the very shape of things there is more than green growth;
there is the finality of the flower. It is a world of crowns. This
impression, whether or no it be an illusion, has so profoundly
influenced this race of thinkers and masters of the material world, that
the vast majority have been moved to take a certain view of that world.
They have concluded, rightly or wrongly, that the world had a plan as
the tree seemed to have a plan; and an end and crown like the flower.
But so long as the race of thinkers was able to think, it was obvious
that the admission of this idea of a plan brought with it another
thought more thrilling and even terrible. There was someone else, some
strange and unseen being, who had designed these things, if indeed they
were designed. There was a stranger who was also a friend; a mysterious
benefactor who had been before them and built up the woods and hills for
their coming, and had kindled the sunrise against their rising, as a
servant kindles a fire. Now this idea of a mind that gives a meaning to
the universe has received more and more confirmation within the minds of
men, by meditations and experiences much more subtle and searching than
any such argument about the external plan of the world. But I am
concerned here with keeping the story in its most simple and even
concrete terms; and it is enough to say here that most men, including
the wisest men, have come to the conclusion that the world has such a
final purpose and therefore such a first cause. But most men in some
sense separated themselves from the wisest men, when it came to the
treatment of that idea. There came into existence two ways of treating
that idea, which between them made up most of the religious history of
the world. The majority, like the minority, had this strong sense of a
second meaning in things; of a strange master who knew the secret of the
world. But the majority, the mob or mass of men, naturally tended to
treat it rather in the spirit of gossip. The gossip, like all gossip,
contained a great deal of truth and falsehood. The world began to tell
itself tales about the unknown being or his sons or servants or
messengers. Some of the tales may truly be called old wives' tales; as
professing only to be very remote memories of the morning of the world;
myths about the baby moon or the half-baked mountains. Some of them
might more truly be called travellers' tales; as being curious but
contemporary tales brought from certain borderlands of experience; such
as miraculous cures or those that bring whispers of what has happened to
the dead. Many of them are probably true tales; enough of them are
probably true to keep a person of real commonsense more or less
conscious that there really is something rather marvellous behind the
cosmic curtain. But in a sense it is only going by appearances; even if
the appearances are called apparitions. It is a matter of
appearances--and disappearances. At the most these gods are ghosts; that
is, they are glimpses. For most of us they are rather gossip about
glimpses. And for the rest, the whole world is full of rumours, most of
which are almost avowedly romances. The great majority of the tales
about gods and ghosts and the invisible king are told, if not for the
sake of the tale, at least for the sake of the topic. They are evidence
of the eternal interest of the theme; they are not evidence of anything
else, and they are not meant to be. They are mythology or the poetry
that is not bound in books--or bound in any other way.

Meanwhile the minority, the sages or thinkers, had withdrawn apart and
had taken up an equally congenial trade. They were drawing up plans of
the world; of the world which all believed to have a plan. They were
trying to set forth the plan seriously and to scale. They were setting
their minds directly to the mind that had made the mysterious world;
considering what sort of a mind it might be and what its ultimate
purpose might be. Some of them made that mind much more impersonal than
mankind has generally made it; some simplified it almost to a blank; a
few, a very few, doubted it altogether. One or two of the more morbid
fancied that it might be evil and an enemy; just one or two of the more
degraded in the other class worshipped demons instead of gods. But most
of these theorists were theists: and they not only saw a moral plan in
nature, but they generally laid down a moral plan for humanity. Most of
them were good men who did good work: and they were remembered and
reverenced in various ways. They were scribes; any their scriptures
became more or less holy scriptures. They were law-givers; and their
tradition became not only legal but ceremonial. We may say that they
received divine honours, in the sense in which kings and great captains
in certain countries often received divine honours. In a word, wherever
the other popular spirit, the spirit of legend and gossip could come
into play, it surrounded them with the more mystical atmosphere of the
myths. Popular poetry turned the sages into saints. But that was all it
did. They remained themselves; men never really forgot that they were
men, only made into gods in the sense that they were made into heroes.
Divine Plato, like Divus Ceasar, was a title and not a dogma. In Asia,
where the atmosphere was more mythological, the man was made to look
more like a myth, but he remained a man. He remained a man of a certain
social class or school of men, receiving and deserving great honour from
mankind. It is the order or school of the philosophers; the men who have
set themselves seriously to trace the order across any apparent chaos in
the vision of life. Instead of living on imaginative rumours and remote
traditions and the tail-end of exceptional experiences about the mind
and meaning behind the world, they have tried in a sense to project the
primary purpose of that mind a priori. They have tried to put on paper a
possible plan of the world; almost as if the world were not yet made.

Right in the middle of all these things stands up an enormous exception.
It is quite unlike anything else. It is a thing final like the trump of
doom, though it is also a piece of good news; or news that seems too
good to be true. It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this
mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person. It
declares that really and even recently, or right in the middle of
historic times, there did walk into the world this original invisible
being; about whom the thinkers make theories and the mythologists hand
down myths; the Man Who Made the World. That such a higher personality
exists behind all things had indeed always been implied by all the best
thinkers, as well as by all the most beautiful legends. But nothing of
this sort had ever been implied in any of them. It is simply false to
say that the other sages and heroes had claimed to be that mysterious
master and maker, of whom the world had dreamed and disputed. Not one of
them had ever claimed to be anything of the sort. Not one of their sects
or schools had even claimed that they had claimed to be anything of the
sort. The most that any religious prophet had said was that he was the
true servant of such a being. The most that any visionary had ever said
was that men might catch glimpses of the glory of that spiritual being;
or much more often of lesser spiritual beings. The most that any
primitive myth had even suggested was that the Creator was present at
the Creation. But that the Creator was present at scenes a little
subsequent to the supper-parties of Horace, and talked with
tax-collectors and government officials in the detailed daily life of
the Roman Empire, and that this fact continued to be firmly asserted by
the whole of that great civilisation for more than a thousand
years--that is something utterly unlike anything else in nature. It is
the one great startling statement that man has made since he spoke his
first articulate word, instead of barking like a dog. Its unique
character can be used as an argument against it as well as for it. It
would be easy to concentrate on it as a case of isolated insanity; but
it makes nothing but dust and nonsense of comparative religion.

It came on the world with a wind and rush of running messengers
proclaiming that apocalyptic portent, and it is not unduly fanciful to
say that they are running still. What puzzles the world, and its wise
philosophers and fanciful pagan poets, about the priests and people of
the Catholic Church is that they still behave as if they were
messengers. A messenger does not dream about what his message might be,
or argue about what it probably would be; he delivers it as it is. It is
not a theory or a fancy but a fact. It is not relevant to this
intentionally rudimentary outline to prove in detail that it is a fact;
but merely to point out that these messengers do deal with it as men
deal with a fact. All that is condemned in Catholic tradition,
authority, and dogmatism and the refusal to retract and modify, are but
the natural human attributes of a man with a message relating to a fact.
I desire to avoid in this last summary all the controversial
complexities that may once more cloud the simple lines of that strange
story; which I have already called, in words that are much too weak, the
strangest story in the world. I desire merely to mark those main lines
and specially to mark where the great line is really to be drawn. The
religion of the world, in its right proportions, is not divided into
fine shades of mysticism or more or less rational forms of mythology. It
is divided by the line between the men who are bringing that message and
the men who have not yet heard it, or cannot yet believe it.

But when we translate the terms of that strange tale back into the more
concrete and complicated terminology of our time, we find it covered by
names and memories of which the very familiarity is a falsification. For
instance, when we say that a country contains so many Moslems, we really
mean that it contains so many monotheists; and we really mean, by that,
that it contains so many men; men with the old average assumption of
men--that the invisible ruler remains invisible. They hold it along with
the customs of a certain culture and under the simpler laws of a certain
law-giver; but so they would if their law-giver were Lycurgus or Solon.
They testify to something which is a necessary and noble truth; but was
never a new truth. Their creed is not a new colour; it is the neutral
and normal tint that is the background of the many-coloured life of man.
Mahomet did not, like the Magi, find a new star; he saw through his own
particular window a glimpse of the great grey field of the ancient
starlight. So when we say that the country contains so many Confucians
or Buddhists, we mean it contains so many pagans whose prophets have
given them another and rather vaguer version of the invisible power;
making it not only invisible but almost impersonal. When we say that
they also have temples and idols and priests and periodical festivals,
we simply mean that this sort of heathen is enough of a human being to
admit the popular element of pomp and pictures and feasts and
fairy-tales. We only mean that Pagans have more sense than Puritans. But
what the gods are supposed to be, what the priests are commissioned to
say, is not a sensational secret like what those running messengers of
the Gospel had to say. Nobody else except those messengers has any
Gospel; nobody else has any good news; for the simple reason that nobody
else has any news.

Those runners gather impetus as they run. Ages afterwards they still
speak as if something had just happened. They have not lost the speed
and momentum of messengers; they have hardly lost, as it were, the wild
eyes of witnesses. In the Catholic Church, which is the cohort of the
message, there are still those headlong acts of holiness that speak of
something rapid and recent; a self-sacrifice that startles the world
like a suicide. But it is not a suicide; it is not pessimistic; it is
still as optimistic as St. Francis of the flowers and birds. It is newer
in spirit than the newest schools of thought; and it is almost certainly
on the eve of new triumphs. For these men serve a mother who seems to
grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed. We
might sometimes fancy that the Church grows younger as the world grows

For this is the last proof of the miracle; that something so
supernatural should have become so natural. I mean that anything so
unique when seen from the outside should only seem universal when seen
from the inside. I have not minimised the scale of the miracle, as some
of our wilder theologians think it wise to do. Rather have I
deliberately dwelt on that incredible interruption, as a blow that broke
the very backbone of history. I have great sympathy with the
monotheists, the Moslems, or the Jews, to whom it seems a blasphemy; a
blasphemy that might shake the world. But it did not shake the world; it
steadied the world. That fact, the more we consider it, will seem more
solid and more strange. I think it a piece of plain justice to all the
unbelievers to insist upon the audacity of the act of faith that is
demanded of them. I willingly and warmly agree that it is, in itself, a
suggestion at which we might expect even the brain of the believer to
reel, when he realised his own belief. But the brain of the believer
does not reel; it is the brains of the unbelievers that reel. We can see
their brains reeling on every side and into every extravagance of ethics
and psychology; into pessimism and the denial of life; into pragmatism
and the denial of logic; seeking their omens in nightmares and their
canons in contradictions; shrieking for fear at the far-off sight of
things beyond good and evil, or whispering of strange stars where two
and two make five. Meanwhile this solitary thing that seems at first so
outrageous in outline remains solid and sane in substance. It remains
the moderator of all these manias; rescuing reason from the Pragmatists
exactly as it rescued laughter from the Puritans. I repeat that I have
deliberately emphasised its intrinsically defiant and dogmatic
character. The mystery is how anything so startling should have remained
defiant and dogmatic and yet become perfectly normal and natural. I have
admitted freely that, considering the incident in itself, a man who says
he is God may be classed with a man who says he is glass. But the man
who says he is glass is not a glazier making windows for all the world.
He does not remain for after ages as a shining and crystalline figure,
in whose light everything is as clear as crystal.

But this madness has remained sane. The madness has remained sane when
everything else went mad. The madhouse has been a house to which, age
after age, men are continually coming back as to a home. That is the
riddle that remains; that anything so abrupt and abnormal should still
be found a habitable and hospitable thing. I care not if the sceptic
says it is a tall story; I cannot see how so toppling a tower could
stand so long without foundation. Still less can I see how it could
become, as it has become, the home of man. Had it merely appeared and
disappeared, it might possibly have been remembered or explained as the
last leap of the rage of illusion, the ultimate myth of the ultimate
mood, in which the mind struck the sky and broke. But the mind did not
break. It is the one mind that remains unbroken in the break-up of the
world. If it were an error, it seems as if the error could hardly have
lasted a day. If it were a mere ecstasy, it would seem that such an
ecstasy could not endure for an hour. It has endured for nearly two
thousand years; and the world within it has been more lucid, more
level-headed, more reasonable in its hopes, more healthy in its
instincts, more humorous and cheerful in the face of fate and death,
than all the world outside. For it was the soul of Christendom that came
forth from the incredible Christ; and the soul of it was common sense.
Though we dared not look on His face we could look on His fruits; and by
His fruits we should know Him. The fruits are solid and the fruitfulness
is much more than a metaphor; and nowhere in this sad world are boys
happier in apple-trees, or men in more equal chorus singing as they
tread the vine, than under the fixed flash of this instant and
intolerant enlightenment; the lightning made eternal as the light.

* * *



On re-reading these pages I feel that I have tried in many places and
with many words, to say something that might be said in one word. In a
sense this study is meant to be superficial. That is, it is not meant as
a study of the things that need to be studied. It is rather a reminder
of the things that are seen so quickly that they are forgotten almost as
quickly. Its moral, in a manner of speaking, is that first thoughts are
best; so a flash might reveal a landscape; with the Eiffel Tower or the
Matterhorn standing up in it as they would never stand up again in the
light of common day. I ended the book with an image of everlasting
lightning; in a very different sense, alas, this little flash has lasted
only too long. But the method has also certain practical disadvantages
upon which I think it well to add these two notes. It may seem to
simplify too much and to ignore out of ignorance. I feel this especially
in the passage about the prehistoric pictures; which is not concerned
with all that the learned may learn from prehistoric pictures, but with
the single point of what anyone could learn from there being any
prehistoric pictures at all. I am conscious that this attempt to express
it in terms of innocence may exaggerate even my own ignorance. Without
any pretence of scientific research or information, I should be sorry to
have it thought that I knew no more than what was needed, in that
passage, of the states into which primitive humanity has been divided. I
am aware, of course, that the story is elaborately stratified; and that
there were many such stages before the Cro-Magnon or any peoples with
whom we associate such pictures. Indeed recent studies about the
Neanderthal and other races rather tend to repeat the moral that is here
most relevant. The notion noted in these pages of something necessarily
slow or late in the development of religion, will gain little indeed
from these later revelations about the precursors of the reindeer
picture-maker. The learned appear to hold that, whether the reindeer
picture could be religious or not, the people that lived before it were
religious already; burying their dead with the significant signs of
mystery and hope. This obviously brings us back to the same argument; an
argument that is not approached by any measurement of the earlier man's
skull. It is little use here to compare the head of the man with the
head of the monkey, if it certainly never came into the head of the
monkey to bury another monkey with nuts in his grave to help him towards
a heavenly monkey house. Talking of skulls, I am also aware of the story
of the Cro-Magnon skull that was much larger and finer than a modern
skull. It is a very funny story; because an eminent evolutionist,
awakening to a somewhat belated caution, protested against anything
being inferred from one specimen. It is the duty of a solitary skull to
prove that our fathers were our inferiors. Any solitary skull presuming
to prove that they were superior is felt to be suffering from swelled

* * *



In this book which is merely meant as a popular criticism of popular
fallacies, often indeed of very vulgar errors, I feel that I have
sometimes given an impression of scoffing at serious scientific work. It
was however the very reverse of my intentions. I am not arguing with the
scientist who explains the elephant, but only with the sophist who
explains it away. And as a matter of fact the sophist plays to the
gallery, as he did in ancient Greece. He appeals to the ignorant,
especially when he appeals to the learned. But I never meant my own
criticism to be an impertinence to the truly learned. We all owe an
infinite debt to the researches, especially the recent researches, of
single minded students in these matters; and I have only professed to
pick up things here and there from them. I have not loaded my abstract
argument with quotations and references, which only make a man look more
learned than he is; but in some cases I find that my own loose fashion
of allusion is rather misleading about my own meaning. The passage about
Chaucer and the Child Martyr is badly expressed; I only mean that the
English poet probably had in mind the English saint; of whose story he
gives a sort of foreign version. In the same way two statements in the
chapter on Mythology follow each other in such a way that it may seem to
be suggested that the second story about monotheism refers to the
Southern Seas. I may explain that Atahocan belongs not to Australasian
but to American savages. So in the chapter called "The Antiquity of
Civilisation," which I feel to be the most unsatisfactory, I have given
my own impression of the meaning of the development of Egyptian monarchy
too much, perhaps, as if it were identical with the facts on which it
was formed as given in works like those of Professor J. L Myres. But the
confusion was not intentional; still less was there any intention to
imply, in the remainder of the chapter, that the anthropological
speculations about races are less valuable than they undoubtedly are. My
criticism is strictly relative; I may say that the pyramids are plainer
than the tracks of the desert; without denying that wiser men than I may
see tracks in what is to me the trackless sand.


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