The Australian Institute of International Affairs
177 Collins St.
Melbourne, C.I. Victoria, Australia
(This will reach me till 17 August)
15 July 1956
I have just had your letter of 6 July (? or 7 June) [parenthesis in original], following one of 24 May, and your card from Florida. Once one is in the U.S.A., one gets on the move in a big way. You must have been nearly as hot in Florida as we were in Panama. I am so glad that Sheepfold and Shepherd [no obvious mention of this on Abebooks] is out and the China book [China and the Cross] so nearly out at last. I am also delighted that you are reviewing my Religio Historici in “Books on Trial”. [Footnote: C.C.E.’s review appeared in Books on Trial (October 1956), pp. 63-64).]
The reference is to An Historian’s Approach to Religion, where he writes:
There is, for instance, the doctor’s approach to the mystery of the Universe (religio medici); and there is the mathematician’s, the sailor’s, the farmer’s, the miner’s, the business man’s, the shepherd’s, the carpenter’s, and a host of others, among which the historian’s (religio historici) is one.
Religio medici comes from Sir Thomas Browne. The phrase religio historici is Toynbee’s. Returning to the letter:
In the present state of the World we cannot, I think, expect agreement, but we can try to understand one another’s different approaches. Your explanation, to Catholics, of my approach will be made with the patience and charity that are the saving virtues for the World in our time (perhaps for the World in all times). Where Pascal makes the same points as his secular-minded contemporaries, it is interesting, because it tells us what were the common problems that were exercising all the greater minds in Western Christendom in the late seventeenth century. [Though Pascal died in 1662.] As for the Indian religions and the Judaic ones, I think one has to equate our Judaic God with the impersonal Indian Brahma and Nirvana, and the Indian (and Greek) gods with the order of beings with whom, in the Christian hierarchy, exorcists are expected to be able to cope. The two facets of ultimate reality – personal and impersonal – that the Jews and the Hindus have perceived are, I am sure, only two out of an infinite number. They are to be equated, not only with each other, but with all those others that are beyond the horizon of our finite human minds. What are we turning to now? One has to look back behind our 17th century revolution, and to discover the causes of that, if one is to be able to look into our own future and – what is more important – to have a chance of influencing it. I think history will be important in this next chapter, because learning each other’s history is an essential part of getting to understand each other better. But, as we approach towards mutual understanding, I believe our outlook will be less relativist, because I believe we shall begin to see some of the underlying common ground between us.
For now, less relativism means less understanding.
Boddhisattvas (sic) seem less heroic than Christ and the martyrs. But then the Indian and Chinese experience of life has been less violent than ours at the Western end of the civilized world. Do you know the story of the Chinese nurse who took service with a cultivated and devout Christian family, whose house was full of reproductions of Italian old masters. She burst out one day that she could not understand how good and responsible parents, like these, could bring themselves to expose their children to these horrible pictures of a criminal being put to death by a form of torture that was happily unknown in the civilized world from which she came! The milder key of the Indian and Chinese part of the World has to be allowed for always.
Shusaku Endo in his Preface (1978) to the American edition of his Life of Jesus:
“The religious mentality of the Japanese is – just as it was at the time when the people accepted Buddhism – responsive to one who ‘suffers with us’ and who ‘allows for our weakness,’ but their mentality has little tolerance for any kind of transcendent being who judges humans harshly, then punishes them. In brief, the Japanese tend to seek in their gods and buddhas a warm-hearted mother rather than a stern father. With this fact always in mind I tried not so much to depict God in the father-image that tends to characterize Christianity, but rather to depict the kind-hearted maternal aspect of God revealed to us in the personality of Jesus.”
Christian B Peper, editor, An Historian’s Conscience, The Correspondence of Arnold J. Toynbee and Columba Cary-Elwes, Monk of Ampleforth, with a Foreword by Lawrence L Toynbee, OUP, by arrangement with Beacon Press, Boston, 1986, posthumous
An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956