Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/32

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
28
THE IDEA

cosmic deliverance was in his mind. Students of early Christian thought must be struck by the vigour of hope in the minds of men, combined with great fluidity in the forms or moulds into which it ran. After much fluctuation, it tended to harden as belief in a supramundane future, a compromise between Jewish and Platonic eschatology, since the jews set their hopes on a terrestrial future, the Platonists on a supramundane present. Christian philosophers inclined to the Platonic faith, while popular belief retained the apocalyptic Jewish idea under the form of Millenarianism. Religion has oscillated between these two types of belief ever since, and both have suffered considerably by being vulgarized. In times of disorder and decadence, the Platonic ideal world, materialized into a supraterrestrial physics and geography, has tended to prevail: in times of crass prosperity and intellectual confidence the jewish dream of a kingdom of the saints on earth has been coarsened into promises of 'a good time coming'. At the time when we were inditing the paeans to Progress which I quoted near the beginning of my lecture, we were evolving a Deuteronomic religion for ourselves even more flattering than the combination of determinism with optimism which science was offering at the same period. We almost persuaded ourselves that the words 'the meek-spirited shall possess the earth' were a prophecy of the expansion of England. Our new privileged class, organized Labour, is now weaving similar dreams for itself.

It is easy to criticize the forms which Hope has assumed. But the Hope which has generated them is a solid fact, and we have to recognize its tenacity and power of taking new shapes. The belief in a law of progress, which I have criticized so un-