Christian Themes

It would be easy, but it would be a mistake, to perceive Royce as putting philosophy ahead of religion—conceiving an ideal community and then singling out a faith, which just happened to be Christian, as the best example of that ideal. A faithful Christian, Royce wanted to understand what made his religion unique and supremely worthy of adherence, and he did so through the medium of philosophy. He also employed philosophical investigation to help him and his students comprehend all the phenomena of life: the nature of human society, religious experience, ethical action, suffering, and the problem of evil.

Earlier in life, he had been convinced that all truth, including the apparent contradictions of ordinary life, was to be found in what is called absolute idealism. Royce was one of a few American philosophers who believed in this concept, developed by the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. However, by the time Royce came to write The Problem of Christianity, he had changed his idea about the nature of this consciousness. Initially, for him, it had resided in a single, absolute mind, or all-encompassing consciousness. Later, he saw it as residing in a community of truth-seeking individuals who constituted a kind of second-order self while retaining their individual identities. This was a community of hope and grace, best exemplified, in Royce’s estimation, by the churches to which Saint Paul had ministered. On the other hand, Royce was disappointed in some doctrine-bound churches that seemed to have...

(The entire section is 630 words.)