In comparing, in a recent letter, the exegetical method of...


In comparing, in a recent letter, the exegetical method of Mrs. Eddy with that of the fourth gospel, the argument drifted, naturally enough, to the second question touched upon by your contributor, the Christian Science doctrine of the unreality of matter. The moment this point is reached, the necessity for clear thinking on the part of critics becomes obvious, otherwise they will merely render themselves ridiculous by such foolish and futile statements as that Christian Science says that nothing exists.

The theory of the unreality of matter was first formulated, in the West, by Plato. His teaching took the form of an insistence on the reality of ideas, as opposed to that of physical phenomena. In this way he became the father of philosophical idealism, the doctrine that nothing exists but mind and its ideas, as opposed to the contention of materialism, that the only true reality is matter and the forces inherent in it. The Platonic theory of ideas is so subtly metaphysical as to be extremely difficult to reduce to words. This is clear from the effort of a certain school of Platonists to reconcile his theory of predication with that of his disciple Aristotle, an attempt Aristotle could have told them was foredoomed to failure. Scientific knowledge of the universe, Plato insisted, was an impossibility. You could only have opinions about it, for the simple reason that sensible phenomena are merely participations in or resemblances of ideas. Thus, "The verutabke diagrams of the mathematician are only aids to the imagination; they are not themselves the true objects of his reasoning." There exist, in the admirable phrase of Mr. Taylor, "a supraphysical world of entities, eternal and immutable, and it is these unchanging entities, called by Plato 'ideas,' which are the objects with which the definitions and universal truths of exact science are concerned."

It was this transcendental element in the teaching of Plato which provoked what has been termed the "smashing" attack of Aristotle. To Plato, the soul was the charioteer and the body the chariot ; to Aristotle, it was the prime constituent of the body, and the two made up a unity. The effect of this was seen when, after the long night of the Dark Ages, human thought began to stir itself into new activities in the era of scholasticism. The struggle between idealism and materialism was continued in the battle between the Conceptualists and the Realists, which found Archbishop Anselm, the first of the schoolmen, the champion of the latter, and Pierre Abelard, the greatest of twelfth-century thinkers, of the former. The thirteenth century saw realism triumphant, mainaly through the effort of Thomas Aquinas, "the angelic doctor," the man described by Huxley as the most subtle of medieval thinkers. Four centuries passed, the Renaissance came and went, and the age of the Rationalists dawned, before idealism found another adequate exponent. When he strode upon the stage he was a bishop; though on the opposite side to Anselm, George Berkeley, lecturer on divinity and Greek in the University of Dublin, sometime Dean of Derry, and eventually presented to the see of Cloyne.

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