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ART. VIII.-Philosophic Theology; or ultimate grounds of all religious belief based in reason. By JAMEs W. MII LEs. Charleston : John Russell. New-York : Geo. P. Putnam. 1849.
THE Reverend Mr. Miles is one of those persons for whom, both as a writer and a gentleman, we have a particular esteem. It is this esteem that prompts us rather to make an imperfect and hurried notice of his volume, in the present number of our Journal, than to suffer it to remain without recognition to another quarterly issue. Hereafter, we may examine more at length the essay which he has put before us. At present, we must confine our selves to a brief glimpse of the principles upon which it is written, bestowing a few words upon the manner in which the work is done. The argument of Mr. Miles in behalf of a philosophic rationale of religion seems to be briefly this : All our knowledge must appeal to, and ultimately rest upon, first principles, which transcend demonstration because they involve the intuitive conviction of their necessity. They cannot be denied without a contest in reason itself. The conscious recognition of these first principles is developed by experience and reflection; and nothing can be absolutely true for us which does not rest upon these intuitive convictions. In the acquisition of knowledge we are limited by our faculties in two directions: on one side by the senses, on the other by the understanding, -which gives form to our knowledge and conceptions, and performs the processes which we commonly call reasoning. But we find that experience wakens a consciousness of, and appeals to, ideas which we do not derive from the senses, and which must antecedently exist in order to render valid and intelligible a great portion of our knowledge. These ideas are intuitions of reason—that is, they constitute a truth which it would be vain to undertake logically to establish as a truth, simply because, in the fact of its being necessary and inevitable, it is beyond and above all proof. If we have no perception, or intuition rather, of any necessary truth—any principles of which we can say, “they must be so in the very nature of things”—then we can know nothing certainly, and even geometry becomes a thing merely problematical. But all knowledge which appeals to our assent, our comprehension, our belief, must fall within the possible sphere of our faculties, or it is a knowledge sealed up entirely for us; and although we might affirm that we believed it, the true meaning of our affirmation would be in reality no more than a belief in that authority which declared the truth trustworthy, and that there was a something in the knowledge proffered us which deserved or demanded our respect; but of that something our own knowledge would be quite as inscrutable and unintelligible as if written in an unknown language. Hence, our faculties remaining what they are, that which appeals to us as truth must be capable of being tested by the first principles or intuitions of reason, in order to fill us with the convictions of its certainty. It is from these intuitions, in connection with certain instinctive emotional facts, discovered by analysis of the feelings, that all religion springs, and it is to them that all revelation must address itself. The problems of God, the universe, man's destiny, must press upon humanity. Every thing leads it to conclude that there must be a God, and the necessity of our nature is the true parent of its faith. In the assured conviction of a God, the conclusion follows inevitably that he will make himself manifest, and this conclusion furnishes the intuition in behalf of revelation. The history of humanity shows that it is conscious of a breach—an aberration of itself from God—which, accordingly, it forever strives, however feebly and imperfectly, to repair and remedy. Hence our propitiations, our sacrifices, our prayers, all aiming at reconciliation—making God and man once more as one. If God would reveal himself, as he cannot be known as a finite being, he must accommodate his revelation to the conditions of the finite faculties. Hence it is necessary that the revelation must be made by elevating and enlightening the reason, or by informing us with those intuitive ideas which make any knowledge comprehensible. If God would connect himself personally with the history of humanity, to furnish the synthesis of divine and human, he must become incarnate; as in no other way can a real historical person appear in the history of man. The life of Christ indicates that he was the point of union between humanity and divinity, he was God and man—and he introduced a new life into humanity—a spiritual life— manifesting itself in the christian consciousness, and which gives one in connection with it, an evidence of the power of christianity, and of its adaptation to his moral wants, which is matter of experience, and hence beyond the sphere of discussion. Thus, the scriptures and christianity, by appealing to, awakening and elevating the intuitive reason and religious feelings of man, carry the highest demonstrations of their truth and power, by bringing themselves within that province in which man can employ his judgment, and attain, through natural processes, a knowledge of the truth;-leaving all logical dispute about formal doctrine, interpretation, institutions, &c., to a sphere where they have nothing to do with the absolute truth in itself. We have, in the preceding paragraph, endeavored to make a synopsis—a very imperfect one, indeed, but such only as our limits would allow—of the principles set forth and applied in this interesting essay. The skeleton of the argument, it will be seen, is one which is susceptible of admirable clothing; and our author, if less copious than he might have been, has been perhaps quite ample in furnishing a costume adequate to all the wants of his subject. A theme which involves necessarily so many metaphysical niceties, is one which cannot be made too lucid where designed for the popular reading; and there are portions of the work before us which might well bear dilation, even at the risk of some iteration of already uttered propositions. The author, it will be seen, rather elevates the reasoning faculties to meet the exigencies of the case, than recognizes them according to the ordinary standards in use. Unquestionably we too much underrate our own resources, and that province of the spiritual, which, however vaguely within our view, is one which, at some expense and sacrifice of the worldly working faculties, it is not denied that we may penetrate. Who shall say to what extent the human vision would be cleared, were we prepared to subject our human appetites and mortal passions, which now enslave and blind us to the control of purer tastes, gentler affections, and a religious zeal, which only forbears the confines of fanaticism and spiritual rages? We must remark that our author's principles do not conflict, as, from the title of his work it might be supposed they do, with any of the dogmas belonging to what is commonly called orthodox divinity. On the contrary, they expressly aim to furnish a philosophical ground, at least, for the “incarnation” and “plurality in divine personality”—and these involve very much—and leave all sectarian difficulties to be adjusted by those whose province it may be. They aim rather at meeting certain sceptical difficulties, which must be antecedent to any question about particular dogmas, and at showing that there is a possibility of reaching grounds of certitude respecting christian truth, based on reason and conscious experience, and independent of dogmas and sectarian disputes. The work is partly written in letters between the author and an earnest but unsatisfied friend, whose scepticism craves light without any passion for argument. We must censure Mr. Miles for an occasional looseness of style, and too little heed to those graces of language which none may more readily command, when he pleases, than himself. He is quite too earnest in what he says to be always sufficiently heedful of the manner in which he says it, and hence an apparent obscurity in the idea, which really belongs only to the construction of the sentence. But we have reached our present limits.
Adirondack, Headley's; or Life in
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Report from the Select Com-
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