The Varieties of Religious Experience HTML version

Lectures 11, 12, and 13. Saintliness
The last lecture left us in a state of expectancy. What may the practical fruits for life have
been, of such movingly happy conversions as those we heard of? With this question the
really important part of our task opens, for you remember that we began all this empirical
inquiry not merely to open a curious chapter in the natural history of human
consciousness, but rather to attain a spiritual judgment as to the total value and positive
meaning of all the religious trouble and happiness which we have seen. We must,
therefore, first describe the fruits of the religious life, and then we must judge them. This
divides our inquiry into two distinct parts. Let us without further preamble proceed to the
descriptive task.
It ought to be the pleasantest portion of our business in these lectures. Some small pieces
of it, it is true, may be painful, or may show human nature in a pathetic light, but it will
be mainly pleasant, because the best fruits of religious experience are the best things that
history has to show. They have always been esteemed so; here if anywhere is the
genuinely strenuous life; and to call to mind a succession of such examples as I have
lately had to wander through, though it has been only in the reading of them, is to feel
encouraged and uplifted and washed in better moral air.
The highest flights of charity, devotion, trust, patience, bravery to which the wings of
human nature have spread themselves have been flown for religious ideals. I can do no
better than quote, as to this, some remarks which Sainte-Beuve in his History of Port-
Royal makes on the results of conversion or the state of grace.
"Even from the purely human point of view," Sainte-Beuve says, "the phenomenon of
grace must still appear sufficiently extraordinary, eminent, and rare, both in its nature and
in its effects, to deserve a closer study. For the soul arrives thereby at a certain fixed and
invincible state, a state which is genuinely heroic, and from out of which the greatest
deeds which it ever performs are executed. Through all the different forms of
communion, and all the diversity of the means which help to produce this state, whether
it be reached by a jubilee, by a general confession, by a solitary prayer and effusion,
whatever in short to be the place and the occasion, it is easy to recognize that it is
fundamentally one state in spirit and fruits. Penetrate a little beneath the diversity of
circumstances, and it becomes evident that in Christians of different epochs it is always
one and the same modification by which they are affected: there is veritably a single
fundamental and identical spirit of piety and charity, common to those who have received
grace; an inner state which before all things is one of love and humility, of infinite
confidence in God, and of severity for one's self, accompanied with tenderness for others.
The fruits peculiar to this condition of the soul have the same savor in all, under distant
suns and in different surroundings, in Saint Teresa of Avila just as in any Moravian
brother of Herrnhut."[143]
[143] Sainte-Beuve: Port-Royal, vol. i. pp. 95 and 106, abridged.