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find out God unto perfection? We know Him, Descartes elsewhere tells us, only in such an imperfect way as a man born blind knows the fire which from time to time warms him.
To show the tenacity with which human thought and hope cling to this Cartesian “Method” of gaining certitude concerning God we will glance at the same argument as put forward in the latter half of the nineteenth century by a very original thinker:
“ That I am a law to myself is certain; is my reason, however, the original or the shadow; is it primary or derived ? I can conceive but one answer to the question. The very changes and variations, the falterings and hesitations, in the dictates of conscience which are adduced to prove its empiric character, only show that the original impersonated law is not in us, but elsewhere. . . . I hold it to be not a piece of mysticism, but of excellent metaphysic, that God is knowable and known to me by a mixture of intuition and experience. It is the only key to what otherwise is inexplicable, the mixture of the emotional and the intuitional in morals. He is virtuous who loves the right, and the right is loveable, because it is identical with a Personal Being. We have heard much of the inability of the human mind to embrace the Infinite. What if the Infinite embraces me? No analysis of concepts will persuade me that I cannot know Him. Let us be consistent in holding the doctrine of the relativity of the human intellect. If, for this reason I do not know God, then I know nothing whatsoever, for my knowledge of the Finite is also relative. I know Him as I know everything else, through the effects of His immediate action, experienced in my spirit. I do not know Him adequately; but then I am not deceived, for I am conscious of the inadequacy of my thoughts. I do not know Him by one concept, but by a number of concepts mutually correcting one another. They are all relative, but none are untrue; and at bottom of all lies the consciousness of which we cannot rid ourselves, that the Absolute Good exists. I fear not the reproach of holding an anthropomorphous view of God. According to this theory, God is not drawn after the likeness of man, but man is Deiform, for God is the archtype of all that is good. You will never persuade mankind that God cannot be known as Infinite Love."1
Returning to Descartes, it is interesting to observe how in all his reasoning he keeps the even tenor of his way. We see that his business is the discovery of Truth, not mere victory by wit, craft or the “ better art of hiding." He tells us he had not found that by the dis
J. B. Dalgairns, in Contemp. Review, xx. 621 and 630.
putes practised in the schools any new truth was ever discovered. “ Those who have long been good attorneys,” says he, “are not on that account the better judges afterwards.” Mere adhesion to a statement, because everybody inclines to it, will not do for him. “Every one is such a stickler for his own view, that you may find as many reformers as heads." As for the older order of teachers—“the obscurity of the distinctions and principles they make use of enables them to speak about everything just as boldly as if they understood everything ... they are like a blind man who, in order to be able to fight on equal terms a person who could see, would have the latter brought down to the depths of a very dark cave."
We have seen that consciousness is sufficient for proving the existence of self and of God: is it equal to the next great task of giving “clear and certain evidence” of the existence of the world without? Descartes says it is : and that it is the only true mode of proof—for where is our evidence of anything save in states of consciousness, beyond which thought cannot act? Thus runs the next argument:
God exists. He is a Being of perfect rectitude and truthfulness. He is necessarily the supreme Good and supreme Truth. Our thought feels a repugnance in attributing to Him any act tending to falsehood. Man cannot be the subject of deception on the part of an All-Wise Creator. All fraud and deception are the results of imperfection and weakness. Then it is impossible the alone Self-existing and All-perfect God should deceive : thus if an idea of the existence of a world outside the domain of consciousness is so clear and distinct that the conviction cannot be doubted—then that world does exist there. Besides the individual, there is God and Nature. There is the region of mind, and there is the region of being outside mind. The clearness of unquestionable certitude pertains equally to both convictions. Within me I detect perceptions, judgments and volitions : without there is a created universe. Within me “there is a supernatural light which disposes the interior of my thought to will, yet in nowise diminishes my freedom ;"1 without I can just as clearly conceive of the existence of substance as extension. Nothing finite can be the efficient cause of itself; the work of infinite Goodness and Truth must be worthy of infinite Goodness and Truth. In consequence then of the very perfection which belongs to God's essential being, man and nature must exist; they are in virtue of His life, and are everywhere a revelation of His Truth and Goodness ; indeed the very fact that humanity at large, and not the individual singly, must be considered in our reflections, and our estimate of the Divine Mercy, proves that there are individuals apart from the one person who makes such reflection or estimate concerning God.
1 Descartes, p. 176.
We are next led to ask, What is the nexus between the Infinite and the Finite ? Descartes considered it was a Spiritual Influx. Existence from God, he said, was a continual creation by God. He held that in one respect nature, generally considered, was God, inasmuch as it is the order and arrangement by which God continually establishes a universe continually created by Him. “The action by which He now conserves it is precisely the same as that by which it was created.” It was “ clear and evident” to Descartes that as only God could give life, this was derived into nature as its receptacle. In seeing God in the order and arrangement of nature he dimly perceived the doctrine Swedenborg should one day set forth so intelligiblycreation in God from Godi—for “in Him we live and move and have our being."
In True Christian Religion there is an interesting Memorable Relation concerning this Spiritual Influx, and Descartes is there mentioned by name. It was on one occasion granted Swedenborg to know, by “an inflowing perception," the laurel-crowned thinker Descartes, also Aristotle and Leibnitz. These stood affar off ; but their respective partisans were near Swedenborg, and disputed together respecting the nature of the intercourse which subsisted between soul and body. The Aristotelians argued in favour of Physical Influxan influence flowing from nature through the bodily senses into the soul. The Leibnitzians contended for a Pre-established Harmonya unanimous and instantaneous operation of soul and body together. The Cartesians declared it was perception that caused sensation ; that perception is of the soul and not of the organic form ; and that when wisdom is elevated above the sensual apprehensions of the body, it becomes evident that Influx is spiritual and flows from the soul into the body. As with most sectarian disputes, confusion was the outcome of the controversy. In their doubt they resolved to draw lots. “They took three bits of paper, on one of which they wrote Physical Influx, on the second Spiritual Influx, on the third Pre-established Harmony. . .: On the lot drawn was written Spiritual Influx. ...
? As in the work, Angelic Wisdom concerning Div. Love and Wisdom. See especially Nos. 55 to 59.
At that instant an angel suddenly appeared, and said to them, “Do not suppose that the lot in favour of Spiritual Influx came forth by mere chance ; it was by divine direction : for not being able, from the confusion of your ideas, to discern the truth of that doctrine, the very truth thus presented itself to the hand, that so you might be led to favour it.'”i If we read Molière's works, and ask ourselves where, in Swedenborg's day, would be such quacks, confirmers and philosophes as that dramatist portrayed, we would say: neither in Hell nor in Heaven probably; but in some vastating sphere, wherein they could be gradually divested of those prejudices, misunderstandings and artificialities which had become almost part and parcel of their nature. Such unlearning and undoing would be of slow accomplishment; and it is pleasant to find that the noble Descartes, under whose name some of these men still contended, was neither of them nor with them, though exercising a beneficial influence over them. He was seen “at a considerable distance,” and evidently, but by aspect, as the denizen of a widely different sphere.
For Descartes' arguments in regard to the Soul's Immortality, Human Free-Will, and other difficult subjects, we must refer the reader to his works. Enough here if we add some few points connected with his scientific labours. He was the first to make the discovery of the application of algebra to geometry. He introduced into mathematical science such improvements as the use of indices to denote the powers of any number; the employment of the first letters of the alphabet for known quantities and the last letters for unknown ones; the method of indeterminate coefficients; and the development of the theory of equations. For twenty years this man devoted his time to optics, anatomy, meteorology, chemistry and mechanics. His reputation became so great, that Queen Christina of Sweden invited him to Stockholm and made him her private tutor. The climate, however, was too severe for Descartes, and he died in the year 1650, in the fifty-third year of his age.
1 Vide T. C. R., 696, also the treatise, Intercourse between Soul and Body, 19.
TO A SICK MOTHER.
May Heaven, dear Mother, watching o'er thee,
With peace endow thy waiting years ; May earth new blessings spread before thee,
To wipe away thy widow'd tears ; While be it mine, with joy increasing,
And gratitude's unfailing light, For all thy guardian care unceasing,
To keep love's hearth-fire burning bright; For earth may stretch her hands to bless, But only love brings happiness !
Thy cradling arms did first enfold me,
Thy gift, the joys my childhood knew;
Assumed the rainbow's various hue.
Lest aught impure my soul should stain,
Nor space nor time can still restrain Thy thought, that seeks my life to bless With richest love and happiness.
Time flies on pinions hastening faster;
But all its weight of earth-born care Seems, while unknown the deep disaster
Of losing thee, more light than air ! No purer love can bless the morrow,
Dear Mother, none thy place can claim : Oh, long, long absent be the sorrow
That makes that word an empty name! Unmark'd the world may ban, may bless, A mother's love is happiness.
So nobly borne thy days of suffering,
So meekly borne thine hours of joy, Have shown, thy tabernacle covering,
That light no darkness can destroy.