The American Journal of Sociology/Volume 01/Number 2/Christian Sociology: I. Man

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793532The American Journal of Sociology, Volume 1, Number 2 — Christian Sociology: I. Man1895Shailer Mathews



While on many considerations it would be advisable to begin the examination of Christ's social philosophy with a study of the Kingdom of God, it is at once obvious that logically the doctrine of the individual precedes the doctrine of society. With Jesus, as with all thinkers, the possibilities of the component parts of a social whole must limit the possibilities of that whole. With him, to use the words of Ward, "Sociology as a whole rests primarily upon psychology."[1] If in the thought of Jesus man is not a social being but rather is a repellant whole, his conception of society must be radically different from that of an organism. If, on the other hand, Jesus regards man as living not merely within the insulated limits of his own individuality, but as essentially a social being, reaching normality only in social life; and if it should appear that Jesus further regards this social personality of a man as distinctively human as is the egoistic, then it is evident that normal humanity may in some way resemble an organic whole, and its development the growth of an organism. Naturally, however, it is difficult and, indeed, impossible to separate the conceptions of man and mankind, and for this reason the results to be presented in a later paper will be presupposed in this in so far as they do not invalidate argument.


It is at the outset necessary to set clear limits to expectations in regard to the character of the Christian anthropology. Incomplete data do not warrant complete systems. Even in Plato a physiological psychologist finds little worthy of serious consideration, and the psychologist proper is often obliged to content himself with pregnant analogies when he seeks definitions.

Writers upon biblical psychology have for many years debated as to whether the human soul is trichotomous or dichotomous. In favor of the trichotomist view[2] it is urged that such expressions as "preserved entire, in all your parts, body, soul, and spirit,"[3] "piercing to the separation of soul and spirit,"[4] affirm a threefold division of man's nature. And it must be admitted that the settlement of the question is not altogether easy. The difficulty lies quite as much in the variety of expressions as in their indefiniteness. The older Jewish Scriptures were written at such different times and by such a variety of authors that, so far from having a common, to say nothing of a definite psychology, it is impossible to formulate even those persistent presuppositions which might be expected to underlie popular vocabularies.

The same difficulty lies to a considerable degree in some of the writings of the New Testament collection. But here the smaller number of writers, as compared with that of the older literature, makes the diversity of opinion less apparent, and to a considerable degree makes the discovery of definitions less difficult. Yet no one of these authors was a trained student of experimental science. Paul, the best educated of them all, gives little evidence of any training beyond the severely scholastic methods of the professional schools at Jerusalem. It is true he has the schoolman's accuracy in the use of terms, but he suffers also from the schoolman's lack of scientific experiment. He is not a scientist but a moralist.

If this last be true of Paul, it is truerof Jesus. He did indeed know what was in man, but his was a knowledge like that of Socrates—a practical and accurate intuition of human nature, rather than the accumulated facts of the psychologist. He has left no attempt to reduce to a system the various phenomena which the student is today taught to observe in consciousness. To him the soul was neither a specimen nor a laboratory, but the supreme treasure of the man. For this reason it is idle to search in his teachings for a detailed exposition of its powers. Nevertheless, the terms of his thinking were not without definition. It is a contradiction of terms to suppose that one who thought so keenly thought at the same time vaguely. If one makes due allowance for a colloquialism that was inevitable in his method of teaching, it is at once apparent that with Jesus, as with Socrates, words were the representatives of things. For this reason it is, that, although definitions are uncommon, Jesus' use of words is consistent as well as concrete. The rabbis, like all scholastic nomialists, might haggle over words. Jesus took them as he found them and used them steadily as the implements of real thought, able to make deep and consistent impressions without attempting formal distinctions.

Perhaps it is because of this consistency that the difficulties mentioned above are far less evident in the gospels than in the epistles. The unity of their teaching is the unity of a dominating personality. Peter, and James, and Paul, and John, and the other authors of letters, each had his own more or less consistent psychological terminology, and in their combination these terminologies are sometimes confusing. But in the words of Jesus such confusion is wanting, for the gospel writers do not allow themselves sufficient editorial license to affect the fundamental conceptions of their Master.[5]

It is these fundamental conceptions that one must seek if he would get the logical point of departure for not merely the social but the religious teachings of Jesus. It is not impossible that in the search for them modern ideas may be read into ancient words, but none the less is the search to be made. And if it should appear that beneath prayer and analogy, maxim and exhortation there should lie a common conception of an ideal that is to be found among the possibilities of every member of the race, and of psychical capacities that make this ideal a possibility, it would be nothing more than one would expect of a thinker at once so artistic and profound as Jesus.


With Jesus man is essentially body and soul, flesh and spirit—an incarnate soul or life. But the two elements are not of equal worth. As the body is more than clothing, so is the soul more than the body. The body is destructible, but the soul may be saved, although it may also be (morally) destroyed.[6] Jesus does not, like many thinkers, regard the body as necessarily evil. It is simply subordinate. So long as the race is in this æon the body is necessary. Upon it depend both the perpetuation of the race through marriage,[7] and, also, death.[8]

This view of man was not altogether peculiar to Jesus. The teaching of the Jewish schools of his time illustrates and, doubtless, to some extent explains his position. According to rabbinical authorities, mankind consisted of body[9] and soul, the former composed of dust, the other descended from God.[10] Further it was held that the soul was preëxistent[11] and was the salt that kept the body from corruption.[12] The gospels nowhere give foundations for the popular notion that the soul is a lower, more physical life-principle, and the spirit a higher, more divine substance. Indeed, it would be quite as reasonable to quote the development of Jewish thought for a precisely opposite view. Still less is there to be found in the words of Jesus the remoter conception of the soul as a sort of connecting link between the body and the spirit.

Just what the relationship is that exists between the soul and the body Jesus does not describe. If the words put into his mouth by Luke, "a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see I have,"[13] were actually his, he apparently distinguished between a ghost and a genuine human personality. But these words introduce so many difficulties, both critical and philosophical, that it will hardly be advisable to rest much argument upon them until they have been given a more careful examination than is here desirable.

In general Jesus distinguished between only physical and spiritual phenomena, and his language, though never technical, is yet sufficiently definite to make it certain that he never held to the trichotomy that possibly characterized the cruder psychology of the early Hebrew scriptures. At all events, the one class of phenomena did not spring from the other. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. Only that born of the spirit is spirit.[14]

It would certainly be inadmissable to consider his reply to the lawyer, "Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding,"[15] as anything more than a Hebrew cumulative emphasis.[16] So far was Jesus from being a trichotomist as sometimes to seem to approach a sort of psychological monism, in which the unity of body and soul constitutes a single life.[17] However this may be, the significance of Paul's treatment of the resurrection of Jesus the type of the race, lies not least in the support it gives to the belief that a man can never become a disembodied spirit. His future immortality is to be clothed in a new, though inexplicable body, or sensuous nature.[18] A belief in a unity of the physical and psychical lies also behind the account of the birth of Jesus as it is contained in the infancy sections of Matthew and Luke, and even more clearly in the noble conception of the writer of the Fourth Gospel, "the word became flesh and tented among us."[19] In each of these cases we have a very early formulation of the philosophy of the incarnation, and one that may very well be taken as representative of the teachings of Jesus himself.

It certainly, therefore, is not too much to say that in the thought of Jesus, the individual man is a unity, which is the outcome of the organic combination of two complementary elements, body and soul. Humanity in its unit is thus a union.


One essential characteristic of this physico-psychical being is its capacity to merge its life with that of similar beings — that is, its capacity for social life. The ideal human life, as Jesus conceives of it, consists in transcending the limits of an egoistic individuality. By this it is not meant to maintain that Jesus taught a pantheism or a generic humanity that is a sort of scholastic mélange. Sociability does not mean the extinction of individuality. It simply means that in the conception of Jesus the self is altruistic as well as selfish—social as well as individualistic.[20] There are attracting and correlating powers of the personality that reach out to others and form, much like chemical atoms, a new substance that is essentially a unity derived through union. To disregard the promptings and needs of this social part of the personality is to invite intellectual and moral death, whose earliest symptoms are sin and abnormality of all sorts. Just as the complete life of the individual depends upon the union of the soul and body, does the normal life of the personality demand a similar union with other personalities. The failure of theology to emphasize this fact is the outcome of a psychology that has been so much concerned with the deliverances of a single consciousness as to slight evidences of social psychical forces.

In the time of Jesus men recognized more or less distinctly the need of establishing a social unity if right living was to be attained—even when their knowledge had little effect upon social institutions. "Man," says Philo,[21] "is a social animal by nature. Therefore he must live not only by himself, but for parents, brothers, wife, children, relatives and friends, for the members of his deme and of his tribe, for his country, for his race, for all mankind. Nay, he must live for the parts of the whole, and also for the entire world, and much more for the Father and the Creator. If he is, indeed, possessed of reason, he must be sociable, he must love the world and God, that of God he may be beloved."

The corresponding position of Jesus, though not expressed so minutely, is quite as distinct, and is far more fundamental to his philosophy. Men's capacity for union renders attainable the purpose of his teaching and his life. It is deep in the ideal which he sets before mankind.


Nowhere does this conception of the necessity of union more predominate than in those teachings that are the most characteristic of the mind of Jesus and which are the most valuable and resultful of all times—the ideal relations that may exist between the human soul and God. This ideal union is expressed continually and with great variety. The vine with its branches[22] symbolizes that relation between Jesus and his followers, which, whatever attitude one may hold towards current evangelical theology, is universally felt to include the relation of the divine and human. His followers are through him to be one, not only with each other, but with God.[23] In his Father's home[24] were, to use his incomparable figure, many mansions, in which he and they were to live. And in his invitation so artistically introduced by Matthew, there is proffered to the weary and the heavy laden a companionship that shall at once make them yoke fellows with himself and friends of the Father.[25]

It is in illustration of this unity of human life with that of the divine that Jesus repeatedly sets himself forth in mystical language as the food of the soul, the bread that came down from heaven.[26] And if at times his language grows more striking than our colder western imaginations often venture,[27] and indeed becomes a hard saying even to his disciples, he instantly explains his analogy in terms that are at once profound and intelligible. The same is true of the symbolical teaching of the Eucharist.[28] So great and essential did this relationship appear to the earliest church that the whole significance of Jesus as a mere ethical teacher is overtopped by it, and in the writings of Paul and John it becomes the leading conception of both the person and the influence of the Christ. He was the incarnate God—the perfect realization of this capacity for union between the human and divine, and at the same time the channel through whom the race itself might be brought into union with God, that it might enjoy those blessings promised God's sons. Indeed, it is not too much to say that Christianity as a system is but an unfolding of the conception of the Godward social capacities of mankind. From this point of view the cardinal doctrines of the incarnation, faith, atonement, justification, and immortality, cease to be abstract, and appear rather the formulation of actual religious experience and the description of psychical possibilities and phenomena.[29]


In a very true sense Jesus identifies the powers of the soul that make union with God an essential of the normal man, with those that force a normal man into union with other human beings. If a man be imperfect who is apart from the divine, so is he who is apart from his fellows. Wherever Jesus holds up a picture of man's ideal, he makes this second element of the twofold extension of personality not only essential but fundamental.

(1) To begin with his conception of the kingdom. If it were allowable to anticipate somewhat the later discussion of this term, it would appear that man is to become righteous—that is, normal—through life in a normal and righteous social order. This new phase of civilization, further, is not a mere aggregation of unrelated individuals, but is a family. The king is a father and the subjects are brothers. It is no insignificant fact that in certain of its aspects, notably its perfection, the life of an isolated individual received little attention from Jesus. Indeed, when the fate of some single person is in question, as for instance "the disciple whom Jesus loved,"[30] his words became enigmatic and, for his immediate audience, unintelligible. His mission included the salvation of individual souls, but salvation with Jesus, so far as his words are witnesses, did not consist in living a detached life. The only possible conclusion to be drawn from this silence is this: Jesus recognizes human life as essentially social. Neither this nor any other statement should be taken as implying a neglect of the individual on the part of Jesus. Righteousness was not to be gotten by the wholesale. Rather it emphasizes the impossibility of disintegrating the kingdom into unrelated lives.

This conclusion is by no means the truism that it may seem. Among religious teachers, at least, social life has not generally been held to be the normal life for the man who seeks an ideal development. Withdrawal from society, monachism, the literal flight from a corrupt world—these have been the characteristics of the great mass of the religions of the past. Modern evangelicism is often guilty of the same mistake in its attempts to distinguish and withdraw from "worldly" influences. But with Jesus the entrance into the kingdom[31] is the goal and the reward of the individual's endeavor. He is above all to seek such entrance; within it is he to heap up true riches; to miss it is the saddest lot; to gain it is the consummation of happiness.

(2) In sharpest opposition to all this is the Christian conception of the un-ideal, the abnormal, the sinful condition of mankind. In a word this may be described as one of unsocial relationships. The evil man is a dead limb,[32] a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son.[33] It is a little remarkable that although the earliest Christian writings have much to say upon the universality of such a condition, Jesus is silent as regards universal sinfulness. With him it would appear as if sin were the reverse of sociability, and a sinful race, as distinct from sinful individuals, a contradiction of terms. In failing to follow the fundamental instincts and capacities of his nature, a man becomes at once selfish, sinful, and unsocial. His punishment is the outcome of his abused nature. Destined for companionship with high spiritual beings, he necessarily turns in upon himself, grows less and less capable of opening his nature to him who seeks his love. He loses those powers by which he might become a member of God's family and of the brotherhood of man. Exclusion from the kingdom is his natural punishment—he is not fit to be one of its members.[34] In one case at least,[35] Jesus states this cause explicitly. At the day of judgment the ground on which exclusion from the kingdom will be based is a failure to fulfil the social duties of the present age. Hell is thus at once the opposite and the horrible caricature of heaven. It is not merely an accommodation of his thought to Jewish terminology when Jesus describes the selfish rich man as suffering alone in Gehenna, and the poor man as in the companionship of Abraham.[36] Translated into the language of today the principle this parable illustrates would not be altogether different from this: The degeneration of the social nature that arises from the neglect of social duties, unfits a man for, or participation in, the enjoyments of the ideal life. Selfishness—that is, an over-developed individualism—must according to the laws of nature result in abnormality and consequent suffering. As long as a kingdom and a brotherhood are the goal of human effort, so long must man be capable of social life, and sociability a characteristic element of a normal man.

(3) But the ideal is the evolution of the attempted. Jesus, recognizes the sociability of men not merely as a condition of the new and divine age, but as the capacity that underlies the development of sinful men into a sanctified and normal brotherhood. In other words, man's capacity for union with other beings is the hope of his regeneration. It would lead too far afield to develop this conception as it deserves. It will properly receive attention in the discussion of the dynamic forces of society. The main thing at present to emphasize is the recognition by Jesus of this characteristic in the but imperfectly righteous man. He as well as the ideal man is a social personality. It is not merely in the glorious age to come that men are to be brethren, it is in the present evil age as well. "One is your Master," he declared in one of his most searching charges to the little band of crude disciples, "and all ye are brethren."[37] It is no mere happy choice of words that gave to those who attempted to incorporate his teachings this name. Altruism, self-sacrifice, was the constant lesson Jesus taught his followers. The sons of Zebedee, over-ambitious to monopolize the glories of the kingdom, the other ten who murmured quite as much from jealous disappointment as with indignation at their comrades' zeal, are bidden to serve rather than be served.[38] In the new order that was to be worked out upon the earth men were to be neighbors[39] and brothers. To exclude a man from the companionship of such was to reduce him to the lowest social grade the Jewish vocabulary could describe.[40] To enter into brotherhood and sonship was the first step toward a future perfection.


Thus from whatever point of view we examine the Christian conception of man, we find it including a capacity for union. And this union is not thought of by Jesus as one of mere collocation. It is essential to the truest life. To avoid it is to become abnormal and sinful. Out from the picture of a possible human life presented by his own living we gain a corroboration of his words to his followers. A man is a social being. On the one side he is joined with physical forces, but on the other lie the needed friendship with God and fellowship with men. If we waive all doctrinal formulas it is nevertheless clear that in this teaching and its exemplification by Jesus, we have a presentation of humanity that must condition all theological and sociological statements that claim to be Christian. Further than this, there is gained a point of departure for the interpretation of less obvious teachings. If the Christian conception of man is thus that of a social being that finds his complete life only in losing it in the life of others, we have as the Christian conception of society that of a necessary thing—that of an entity that is the complex not merely of physical environments but of personal as well. All unions that are the promptings of normal human instincts are therefore natural and helpful. All separations that are approved by such instincts are equally natural and necessary. And what is of especial significance, a Christian sociology becomes possible and necessary as the complement of a Christian theology.

The University of Chicago.

  1. Psychic Factors of Civilization, p. 2.
  2. See epecially Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology.
  3. I Thess. 5:23.
  4. Heb. 4:12. To these passages might be added several from the Old Testament, as well as Matt. 22:37 and parallels.
  5. It is, of course, here quite unnecessary to go into any complete discussion of biblical psychology—even if there be any such. It may, perhaps, be noted in passing that any method that attempts to derive scriptural teachings by a mere aggregation of texts is always liable to the uncertainties and suspicion that will be found to attend any unhistorical search after any developing truth. Besides, it is only too easy to erect a merely practical into an absolute distinction. Cf. Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 366 n.
  6. Matt. 10:28.
  7. Mark. 10:8, 12:25.
  8. John 6:51, 53.
  9. At first of double sex. The woman was taken from the man. Weber, Lehren des Talmud, 203.
  10. Gen. 2:7.
  11. Weber, 204.
  12. See in addition the curious teaching in regard to the threefold origin of a man quoted in Hershon, A Talmudic Miscellany, p. 67.
  13. Luke 24:39.
  14. John 3:6.
  15. Matt. 22:37. These words are variously reported of the other evangelists. They are a quotation of Deut. 6:4 sq., apparently modified by popular Greek psychological expressions.
  16. It is true, however, that there seems at times a shade of difference between ψυχή (life, soul) and πνεύμα (spirit). Thus in Matt. 23:35, and Luke 6:9; 12:19, the soul is apparently physical life, the sensuous nature, while "spirit" is generally used when the thought is concerned with moral and religious matters, and especially with the soul's divine origin. Yet it is also true that in Matt. 10:28 the former of the words overlaps in meaning that of the other, while in Matt. 27:50, Luke 8:55, the reverse is the case. And these are by no means the only instances. See in addition Wendt, Fleisch und Geist, p. 46.
  17. Such is the implication of the destruction of the body in Gehenna (Matt. 5:29, 30; 10:28). For even if due allowance is made for the figurative language, the reference is clearly to moral suffering. In Matt. 6:25 the Hebrew parallel arrangement may not impossibly hint at a similar conception. Yet these and similar passages imply nothing as to a identity of the physical and psychical substances.
  18. Compare the opinion of Rabbi Judah the Holy, "God will reunite soul and body, and judge them both as one together." Here again contemporary—or somewhat later—Jewish thought illustrates Christian.
  19. John I:14.
  20. See Bax, The Ethics of Socialism. Whatever one may hold as to many positions taken in this essay, it is at least worthy of notice that apparently from a purely non-scriptural, and to some extent anti-scriptural, position the author has occasionally arrived at conclusions which are but a paraphrase of the teachings of Jesus.
  21. See the article by Montefiore, "Florilegium Philonis" in the Jewish Quarterly Review, April, 1895. Philo may be taken as a representative of a school of thought that both preceded and survived Jesus.
  22. John 15:1, 2. It is, perhaps, not without significance that Jesus here speaks of himself as the true vine—as if the relationship thus described was not confined alone to that between himself and men, but that such union was characteristic of men.
  23. John 17:23. Compare with this, John 13:20.
  24. John 14:2, 3.
  25. Matt. 11:27-36.
  26. John 6:32, 35.
  27. See especially John 6:51-64. The saneness and truth of this passage is seen in the prevailing use made of it in the history of doctrine.
  28. Matt. 26:26-30 and parallels. Cf. I Cor. 11:23-26.
  29. While superficially the current of theological teaching seems to have drifted away from this point of view—especially under the influence of the "Nature" philosophy of the last century—it is nevertheless true that the doctrine of the so-called Vital or Mystical Union has been characteristic of many if not most of the chief theologies. Thus Augustine (Serm. 144): "Qui ergo in Christum credit, credendo in Christum, venit in eum Christus, et quadammodo unitur in eum." So, too, Calvin, Works (Brunswick ed., 1870), IX. 30: "We coalesce with Christ in a sacred unity and the same flesh breathes life into us." The Larger Catechism, Question 66, expresses the fact more formally: "The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling." See H. B. Smith, System of Christian Theology, 531, sq. Recently the importance in theology, not merely of this religious union but of social activity as well, has considerably increased. If one cares to see how the terminology of a theological past may yet be found full of the spirit of Jesus and applicable to modern conditions, he cannot do better than read Hyde, Social Theology. See also Freemantle, The World as the Subject of Redemption, and Wescott, Social Aspects of Christianity, and The Incarnation and Common Life.
  30. John 21:22. In the case of Simon Peter (Luke 22:30) we have an apparent except on to this general attitude, and others also occur. But in all of them it is easy to perceive a purely personal interest.
  31. Matt. 5:20, 7:21, 18:1, 19:23, 25:34, John 3:3 and numerous other sayings. In the same line are those sayings in which the kingdom is the reward to be reached by men of high morality, e. g., the poor in spirit, Matt. 5:10, the humble and child-like, Mark 10:14, 15.
  32. John 15:6.
  33. Luke 15:3-32.
  34. Matt. 8:12, 21:43.
  35. Matt. 25:34-46.
  36. Luke 16:22, sq.
  37. Matt. 23:8.
  38. Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45.
  39. Luke 10:25-37.
  40. Matt. 18:17.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1941, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 82 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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