Essays and Addresses on the Philosophy of Religion Summary
The study of history shows that religion is a characteristic of humanity and consists of universality and “superhumanity,” or a higher reality. However, asks Baron Friedrich von Hügel, could religion be merely an illusion? Hegelians claim that the human mind can know nothing but itself, whereas von Hügel asserts that the human mind also possesses imagination, will, feeling, and sense; it has the capacity to know other minds and concrete realities distinct from itself. If humans can apprehend realities such as morality and aesthetics, and if these apprehensions point to realities outside the mind, then humans can apprehend a higher reality outside of themselves. Just as objects in the external world reveal themselves to humans, so God makes himself known to humans as revelation in its purest and most perfect form.
In response to a woman who doubts that an all-good God could allow her young daughter to die of a lingering illness, von Hügel explains that God’s reality is obscure, but things of this world are no less real because our perception of them is obscure. Our perceptions are confirmed by actual experience, by others’ similar experiences, and by the vividness of experiences. However, to achieve faith in God, the mind must be prepared to grow; it cannot be self-centered or self-occupied. The firmest faith, however, comes out of the deepest suffering, physical and spiritual. The history of religion teaches such insights. Indeed, Christianity has grown stronger because of centuries of suffering, surviving all temptations, attacks, and persecutions. The suffering and crucifixion of Christ symbolized this truth. Without suffering himself, Christ could not have asked as much of humankind.
In the works of German theologian Ernst Troeltsch, an ardent Protestant, von Hügel finds reinforcement of his own Catholicism. Von Hügel states that critiquing Troeltsch’s works on ethics and the essence of Christianity fortified his sense of the value of religious controversy. This value is heightened when each side shares a deep love and understanding of the fundamentals of Christian faith and each has a mind capable of entertaining opposing insights.
Considering the question of the existence of Heaven and Hell, von Hügel rejects the idea that the afterlife is a mere continuation of this life, only more attractive. Rather, a true Christian finds immortality by seeking, experiencing, and loving God in a supernatural reality. The morality of ordinary life constitutes natural goodness; supernatural goodness is the soul’s final assuagement. The concepts of Heaven and Hell make Purgatory necessary as a stage in the soul’s transition to Heaven. Creatures in the natural world and unbaptized infants reach a degree of felicity in the afterlife, but ultimate beatitude can be experienced only by those who have struggled through changes and have made hard choices, which qualify them first for Purgatory.
Those who choose both spirit and body will gain immortality, retaining their essential nature, von Hügel says. The happiness and joy that the saved experienced on earth will be intensified in Heaven, and they will be free of pain and suffering as well. Even relationships, such as husband and wife, will continue in Heaven. On the other hand, the lost spirits will experience an everlasting diminishment of happiness in proportion to their willful disobedience on earth.
Von Hügel sees the Catholic Church as a necessary mediator between the individual soul and God. Catholicism combines the finite with the infinite as well as the historical and the timeless. It engages the human spirit in its quest to transcend itself. It provides the historical basis of the spirit’s acceptance of God and combines historical evidence with spiritual truth. It combines the factual and the doctrinal and is based in the belief that visible reality is connected with the invisible reality of God.
All religions, von Hügel asserts, share a faith in the spirit, but...
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