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dânta philosophy, the poetry of the Sufis, and the speculations of the mediaeval mystics; but it seems to me that it would be better if a different name could be assigned to what may be the highest height which religion can reach, but is nevertheless a complete transfiguration rather of human nature than a system of doctrines about the Divine, and a code of precepts inspired by our belief in the Divine. In German it is called Religiosität; in English religiousness or devotion might be used in the same sense.
Religion, either belief or body of doctrines. We have still one remark to make with regard to the ordinary use of the word “religion,' before we can feel ourselves properly equipped for grappling with the great historical definitions of religion which have to be examined. Like many terms of the same character, religion can be used either for our own intellectual possession of theoretic dogmas and moral principles, or as a name of a body of doctrines and precepts collected by authority, chiefly for the purpose of teaching these doctrines and practices. Thus we may say that a person has changed the Jewish for the Christian religion, that is to say, that he has changed his own religious convictions. But we may also say that a person is studying the Buddhist religion, either by reading the sacred books of the Buddhists or by watching the life of the Buddhists in Ceylon or China, without allowing these studies to exercise the least effect on his own convictions. This ambiguity can hardly be avoided, and we have to make allowance for it in all branches of knowledge. We speak of logic, meaning either the laws of thought as we know and follow them ourselves, or a body of doctrines, contained in essays and manuals; and we shall have to bear in mind the same double meaning when we speak of religion.
A strict adherence to the terminology, as we have now explained it, will help us, I hope, to avoid many misunderstandings, and enable us at the same time to assign to each of the various definitions of religion its proper place.
EXAMINATION OF DEFINITIONS.
Natural and Revealed Religions. M OST of the earlier definitions of religion which
W we shall have to examine, have reference to Judaism and Christianity only.
These two religions were considered, in Europe at least, as different in kind from all the rest, being classed as supernatural and revealed, in opposition to all other religions which were treated as not-revealed, as natural, and by some theologians even as inspired by the powers of evil.
In an historical study of religion, however, such a distinction is untenable 1, for we shall find that the claim of revelation or the assertion of a supernatural origin is by no means peculiar to Christianity and Judaism. Most of the great religions of the world were by their followers believed to have been revealed, and the arguments by which such a belief was supported are much the same among all theologians.
As the founders of most religions professed to teach what no eye had seen nor ear heard, they could not invoke the ordinary authorities for the truth of their doctrines, but had to appeal to supernatural sources of knowledge. And even in cases where the founders
See Flint, Theism, p. 323.
themselves made no such claim, but took their stand on the testimony of the spirit of truth only, their followers would soon ascribe to them a higher authority,so as to render all questionings and all opposition to their doctrines impossible. This applies to all or nearly all religions, and the claim of a supernatural origin, so far from being exceptional, is really one of the most natural tendencies of natural religion.
The student of Comparative Theology therefore can claim no privilege, no exceptional position of any kind, for his own religion, whatever that religion may be. For his purposes all religions are natural and historical. Even the claim of a supernatural character is treated by him as a natural and perfectly intelligible claim, which may be important as a subjective element, but can never be allowed to affect the objective character of any religion.
Comparative Theology. In that respect Comparatire Theology has but followed the example of what used to be called Natural Theology, which was always defined as the study of religion, independent of revelation. It professed to comprise all that could be known of God by the aid of the human understanding alone. This system of natural religion, such as we find it elaborated, for instance, by Raymundus de Sabunde (or Sebonde), was intended at first to serve as an introduction only to revealed religion?. But it soon became independent, and Natural Religion, in its purity and reasonableness, threatened to excel all revealed religion. In the last century all religions began to be treated as sects, if not as corruptions, of Natural Religion, and a study which at first was looked upon as a powerful aid to faith, was afterwards discouraged as dangerous to the interests of true religion.
1 Thus we read in the Theologia Naturalis sive Liber Creaturarum, specialiter de homine et de natura ejus in quantum homo, et de his quae sunt ei necessaria ad cognoscendum seipsum et deum, et omne debitum ad quod homo tenetur et obligatur tum Deo quam proximo, Argentinae, 1496, ‘Liber creaturarum est porta, via, janua, intro
Natural Theology differed, however, from what is now called Comparative Theology in that it paid but scant attention to the historical religions of the world, framing its ideal of what natural religion ought to be, from the inner consciousness only.
But in the same way as towards the beginning of our century General Grammar, which taught what, according to the rules of logic, language ought to be, was replaced by Comparative Grammar, which showed what language really had been, the study of Natural or General Theology also had to make room for the study of Comparative Theology, or what may be called the Science of Religions, as distinguished from the Science of Religion. While Natural Theology treated of religion in the abstract, or of what religion might or should have been, Comparative Theology studies religions as they have been, and tries to discover what is peculiar to each and what is common to all, with a silent conviction that what is common to all religions, whether revealed or not, may possibly constitute the essential elements of true religion.
Modus cognoscendi et colendi Deam. The first definition with which we have to deal, and which is perhaps the most widely accepted among ductorium et lumen quoddam ad librum sacrae scripturae in quo sunt verba Dei, et ideo ille praesupponit istum.” (Titulus ccxii.)