Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/25

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21
OF PROGRESS

universal progress, in a strictly temporal sense. The notion of an evolving and progressing cosmos, with a Creator who is either improving himself (though we do not put it quite so crudely) or who is gradually coming into his own, has takan strong hold of the popular imagination. The latter notion leads straight to ethical dualism of the Manichean type. The theory of a single purpose in the universe seems to me untenable. Such a purpose, being infinite, could never have been conceived, and if conceived, could never be accomplished. The theory condemns both God and man to the doom of Tantalus. Mr. Bradley is quite right in finding this belief incompatible with Christianity.

It would not be possible, without transgressing the limits set for lecturers on this foundation, to show how the belief in a law of progress has prejudicially affected the religious beliefs of our time. I need only recall to you the discussions whether the perfect man could have lived in the first, and not in the nineteenth or twentieth century—although one would have thought that the ancient Greeks, one nation only, have produced many examples of hitherto unsurpassed genius; the secularization of religion by throwing its ideals into the near future—a new apocalyptism which is doing mischief enough in politics without the help of the clergy; and the unauthorized belief in future probation, which rests on the queer assumption that, if a man is given time enough he must necessarily become perfect. In fact, the superstition which is the subject of this lecture has distorted Christianity almost beyond recognition. Only one great Church, old in worldly wisdom, knows that human nature does not change, and acts on the knowledge. Accordingly, the papal syllabus of 1864 declares: Si quis dixerit: Romanus pontifex potest ac