Spirituality and Moral Struggle
So much of Josiah Royce's philosophy is concerned with transcendence that
I am inclined to believe that religion, and spirituality in particular, was the
greatest interest of his life. One can hardly read The World and the Individual
or The Problem of Christianity without becoming aware of spirituality as a profound
human need: a fervid longing for what lies beyond. But the word "spirituality" is
rarely used by Royce, even when spirituality is under implicit discussion and the use
ofthe word would enlighten the reader. The word "spirit" appears a number of times
like a signal flare, but its meaning is never expounded and we are left in the dark.
Let us see what clarifying light can be shed on Royce's conception of spirituality.
That this conception is vague and not explicitly developed is most unfortunate,
yet Royce is not entirely to blame. What spirituality means is vague in the literature
ofthe great spiritual traditions; but if it means anything special at all, it must mean
the opposite of worldliness. Spiritual gifts must be such as the world cannot give.
Peace is one of these gifts. The world may give us wealth and power, pleasure
and happiness, on rare occasions even love, but it cannot give us peace. Peace I
leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.1
Spirit does not give as the world gives because the world is not its home, and even
when it appears in the world it prefers not to dwell there. Its primary gift is neither
wealth nor power nor any mundane treasure, but rather liberation from the cares of
Travail is inseparable from worldly life, but whoever lives in the spirit, though
he may appear to die in the sight ofthe unwise, is at peace. Spirituality is therefore
at least compensatory; it offers an alternative satisfaction in exchange for desires
which cannot be satisfied in the course of existence: if the world leaves our desires
unfulfilled, spirituality yields the peace of surrendering desire. Here the major
religions of the East are in agreement with the New Testament. "The Tao is always
at ease."2 It is serene. Shunryu Suzuki describes Nirvana as "perfect composure."3
Yet peace, serenity, and perfect composure can be understood negatively to mean
the mere absence of suffering. Spirituality needs a positive dimension if the peace of
Christ is to mean more than the nihilism of bodily death.
The New Testament and Catholic theology suggest a second spiritual gift which
is not compensatory. Those who are liberated from the cares ofthe world are not only
at peace: they are supremely happy. These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy
might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.4 According to St. Thomas, the
blessed in heaven are filled with rapture at the immediate knowledge of God which
1 John 14:27.
2Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 73.
3 Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner s Mind (Boston: Weatherhill, 2005), 94.