Monday, November 30, 2009

a more than human glory...

What it must have been like to listen to Channing preach!  By most accounts, his voice was not powerful and he was not particularly animated.  Instead, his holiness of character and utter sincerity animated his listeners and spurred them to self examination and a higher life.  Excerpts from Sermon One in the posthumous collection, "The Perfect Life."


Mark xii. 29, 30 : " The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment."

THE command thus given to love God, with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, is in harmony with our whole nature. We are made for God; all our affections, sensibilities, faculties, and energies are designed to be directed towards God; the end of our existence is fellowship with God. He could not require us to devote our entire being to Himself, if He had not endowed it with powers which fit us for such devotion. Religion then has its germs in our Nature, and its development is entrusted to our own care. Such is the truth that I would now illustrate.

I.—The Principle in Human Nature, from which religion springs, is the desire to establish relations with a Being more Perfect than itself.... If there is one principle, indeed, that may be declared to be essential in human nature, it is this unwillingness to shut itself up within its own limits, this tendency j to aspire after intercourse with some Divinity. It is true that men at various periods have formed most unworthy conceptions of their objects of worship. Still, by selecting the qualities which they esteemed most highly in themselves, and by enlarging and exalting them without bounds, they have showed, as plainly as have more enlightened ages, the spontaneous longing of the human spirit to rise above itself, and to ally its destiny with a Supreme Power. This simple view is sufficient to prove the grandeur of the Religious Principle...We see this principle in the creations of genius, in forms of ideal beauty to which poetry and the arts give immortality, in fictions where characters are portrayed surpassing the attainments of real life. We see this principle in the admiration with which stupendous intellect and heroic virtue are hailed, and in the delight with which we follow in history the career of men who in energy and disinterestedness have outstripped their fellows. The desire * for an excellence never actually reached by humanity, the aspiration towards that Ideal which we express by the word Perfection, this is the seminal principle of religion.

This view conducts us to an important standard, by which to judge of the Truth and Purity of any form of religion. A religion is true, in proportion to the clearness with which it makes manifest the Perfection of God. The purity of a particular system is to be measured by the conception which it inspires of God. Does it raise our thoughts to a Perfect Being ? Does it exalt us far above our own nature? Does it introduce us to a grand and glorious Intelligence ? Does it expand our minds with venerable and generous conceptions of the Author of existence ? I know no other test of a true and pure religion but this. Religion has no excellence, but as it lifts us up into communion with a Nature higher and holier than our own. It is the office of religion to offer the soul an object for its noblest faculties and affections, a Being through whom it may more surely and vigorously be carried forward to its own perfection. In proportion then as religion casts clouds around the glory of God, or detracts from the loveliness and grandeur of His character, it is devoid of dignity and tends to depress the mind...And the wise man is distinguished by detecting continually whatever is low in his apprehension of God, and by casting it away for more exalted views.

Men are attracted by no quality so much as by sovereign greatness of will. They love whatever bears the impress of the infinite. So strong is this principle of Reverence, that when fallen from the knowledge of the true God, they have sought substitutes in their own teeming imagination, have deified fellow-men, have invented beings in whom they might concentrate and embody their conceptions, just or unjust, of Supreme dignity. Thus the heart was made for worship, and worship it will. It longs for something more excellent than it finds on earth. In works of poetry and fiction it continually creates for itself a more than human glory."



David G. Markham said...

Dear BU:

I am worried that William Ellery Channing leads us astray when he describes God as an object of our aspirations.

Jesus said that the kingdom is within us and I have come to experience God as a verb not a noun, not an object.

Perfecting is the ability to become one with the all, to go with the flow, to escape one's egotistical desire for grasping and attachment.

Perfecting is an integration into the glory of God not the attainment of some more superb ego.

Maybe I am misunderstanding WEC. I am still curious what he has to say further, however, the Protestant idea that God an object died for our sins and thus we, a subject, have been saved, is quite different from the Catholic idea of Theosis or the soul doing God's will so perfectly that the soul becomes one with God.

Thank you for the post,

David Markham

slt said...

Dear David,
Many thanks for your words. The God as without or within "divide" is, I believe, a central paradox of religion and it was no less so for the "Boston Unitarians."
Channing certainly comes down on the side of God as Father but his entire message is our capacity to achieve unity with God. In that sense he was somewhere in between his more conservative co-religionists who focused on the former, and the transcendentalists who tended toward the latter. May the conversation go on!
I appreciate your perspective and I thank you for reading
Many blesings, BU

Yewtree said...

Hi, just to say that the concept of theosis comes from Eastern Orthodox Christianity, not Catholicism (the nearest equivalent in Catholicism is sanctification by grace - but it is not exactly the same as theosis).