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survey of the past, when we take stock, as it were, of the phenomena of history. Only after the lapse of centuries does it become possible to estimate the association and import of facts, the tendency of principles, their falseness or their truth.
The thoughts of men are widened by the process of the suns.
Christianity is at this time a fact of long standing. Its relative importance among other elements of civilization may now be measured: its effects eliminated from those of other agencies: the laws of its progress determined: its retardations adjusted: its ultimate movements conjectured. But there was a time when these processes could not have been carried on, when any argument grounded on them would have been preposterous: and the more nearly we return in thought to the beginnings of the Faith of Christ, the less room is found for their admission.
The religion of Jesus Christ, we may maintain, The prohas now achieved for itself an actual positive stand- Truth slow point against the assaults of detractors. Those aUe!"evit who impugn its claims have at least to account in some other way for the successes it has gained and the influence which it wields. Men, it may be allowed, may blunder into truth: perhaps even, they must go wrong before they come out right. It is probable that this is the key to much of the
history of thought, resembling those arithmetical calculations in which error is checked by error to obtain an approximation to the truth.1 But the mind on looking back can well enough discern its wanderings on the road. It is true that there is much in the career of Christianity to obscure the light of its own progress. The tardiness and partial character of its advance have been often remarked.8 It has not flashed with meteor brilliancy across the world's story, neither has it shone with steady undimmed effulgence along the track of time; rather, like the sun in heaven, it has struggled through cloud and mist. At the first it wrought irregularly on individual minds, not by an organized system. The Reformation and all returns to its primitive character have
1 Thus "error," as Voltaire remarked, "has its merits." "The history of philosophy," says Sir William Hamilton, "is the history of error." We may say with Virgil,
Pater Ipse colendi
"Encore que les philosophes," says Bossuet, "soient les protecteurs de l'erreur, toutefois ils ont frappe' a la porte de la Vcritd."
1 See some good remarks on this subject by the Bishop of Ely in his lecture on Christ's Influence on History, p. 28. Thus Neandcr compares the development of Christianity to a process moving steadily onward, though not in a direct line, but through various windings, yet in the end furthered by whatever has attempted to arrest its course. "Religion," says Mr. Morlcy, Crit. Misc., p. 95, "must be accepted as a fact in the history of the human mind, . . . and Christianity is undeniably entitled to one of the most important places in it, however we may be disused to strike the balance between the undoubted injuries and the undoubted advantages which it has been the means of dealing to the civilization of the West."
tended to restore this mode of its operation,1 and so have ever exhibited degrees of non-conformity. The irony of the lofty author of the ' Variations of Ground
. less objec
Protestantism may be and has been turned with tion drawn
equal force from the disagreements of opposed ations of sects and rival Churches upon the claims of Christianity at large.2 The conclusion drawn, it is true, is no more valid in the one case than in the other, and for the same reasons. Indeed, to a fair mind it would rather furnish a presumption against the truth of Christianity, if it did not or had not in its progress exhibited that amount of variation which is alone compatible with the course of human reason on all subjects of thought. The pathology of a religious system assumes the reality of a true core of belief. The existence of controversy is to a certain extent a test of the power and vitality of Christianity. "If any country," says Bacon,3 "decline into Atheism, then controversies wax dainty; because men do think religion scarce worth the falling out." The co-existence and competition of sects has therefore not unreasonably
1 Dean Hook, Lives of Archbishops, in his Introduction to the New Series, remarks on "the tendency of the Reformation to individualize Christianity."
'"Si ('argument de M. de Meaux vaut quelquc chose contra la Reformation, il a la mime force contre le Christianisme."—Beausobre, Hist, de ManicMe, 1.526, and see Mr. Buckle's remarks, 77. C. E., II. 283. The objection raised disappears when the nature of the subject-matter of Revelation, with its difficulties of application and interpretation, is considered. Compare Hallam, Literature of Europe, III. 268.
s Bacon's Works (ed. Spedding), VIII. 165.
been held to be the system most in conformity with the nature of society, and most favourable to the solidity and general efficiency of religion.1 Some, however, may be inclined to attribute to the objection, suggested by the argument of Bossuet, an importance disproportioned to its worth. It certainly entails on the Christian advocate the task of showing that the disagreement among Christians has not been vital, nor its degree such as to neutralize the common effect due to the religion of Christ as a whole. In accomplishing the work whereunto it is sent, the robe of Christ is still "without seam, woven from the top throughout." Moreover, whatever have been its fortunes, its proper tendencies remain; and these undoubtedly act to "draw men together in spite of their worst differences, proving it to be quite as abhorrent of divisions in itself as Nature ever A wam- was of a vacuum."2 Still, if union is strength,
ing, how- .
ever, to persistent differences mean permanent weakness.
study the . . , . „ . „ ,
increase of It is then surely time tor the great sections 01 the 0 Christian world3 to study unity and not division;
1 See Guizot's Meditations, Pt. II., pp. 6,165 (E. T.); Paley, Eoid., II. c. vii.; and compare Ffoulkes' Divisions of Christendom, p. 246. "There is even consolation," &c. It is true, however, as Dr. Westeott has remarked, after Comte, that the tendencies of Protestantism go to obscure the conception of continuity in human progress, reposing too much on logical deduction. "To erect any one age (whether primitive or mediaeval) into an idol is to deny implicitly that the Gospel is life."—Contemp. Review, VI. 420. See also Dorner, Hist. Protestant Theology, Vol. I., p. xviii., E. T.
2 Ffoulkes, «. s., p. vi. and p. 252.
5 Compare Guizot, Meditations, Pt. I., Pref., pp. ix.-xvii, "Je dis alliance and not mutual elimination; to give up claims to a several infallibility; to join at least for the defence of the faith "once delivered to the saints"; to exhibit the bases of a common belief; to cherish more strongly than hitherto their underlying points of agreement; to drop dissensions, and go forth to conquer.
§ 4. But it may be asked at the outset—is Per- Perma
. B nence an
manence of itself a test of truth ? 1 Is that which actual test
. of truth.
is true always enduring and error never so? Have not unreal systems held sway and made progress in the history of mankind? Is there no such thing as a prescription of ignorance ?a Is retrogression a thing impossible, and is there no historical proof of it? Are periods of "denuda
l'figlise Chretienne: c'est toute l'figlise Chr&ienne en effet, et non pas telle ou telle des églises chrttiennes qui est maintenant et radicalement attaquee."
1 It will perhaps be said that truth is strictly an attribute of propositions only; and in this sense no one will deny that what is true is true for always, though it may not at all times be recognized. But the term seems not improperly used of whatever answers to the definition of a thing. In the case of institutions, some come up to the idea or notion commonly held of their nature and function; some fall short of itChristianity is sometimes regarded as a set of dogmas or propositions (such as have been termed fundamentals), of which truth is immediately predicable. Sometimes it is identified with the Church, which is the witness and keeper of these truths. In this capacity, as liable to the admixture of error, it may be compared with rival religious systems, and may vary at different periods relatively to itself. Permanence in the form of persistence in consciousness seems to lie at the basis of all reality. See Mr. Herbert Spencer, First Principles, p. 226.
* " Consnetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est."—Cyprian, Ep. 74. Opp., p. 282.