Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

extent has the subject been mystified in the minds of theological disputants and in the religious treatises which have pretended to enlighten and guide, that the true answer to it has been really brought into doubt, and men have fancied themselves doing honor to God and their religion by uttering a bold affirmative. Many who have not the courage to do this directly, have yet contrived to come by a circuitous process to the same result, and have consented to bind the reason and conscience of their fellow-christians in the chains of authority and prescription.

Our author proceeds, therefore, in his second chapter, to state the proofs that reason is to be consulted in our inquiries and decisions. These he derives from the nature of the case, from the testimony and example of the early Christian writers, and from the assertions of the Scriptures themselves. He then examines the opposite ground, as it has been taken with greater or less distinctness by Catholics and Protestants.

The Catholic doctrine, as set forth by the Abbé de la Mennais in his treatise on Religious Indifference, is that which is examined here, as being the latest and most ingenious statement on the subject. As far as we can understand it, it amounts to something like this. There is no certain source of knowledge to man excepting authority; all his other means of attaining to truth are but so many fountains of

The senses are liable to deceive us, and we never can be sure in any case that they are not imposing upon us. Reason is any thing but certain; it is a different thing in different men, and there is no absurdity which it has not at some time advocated. Even the exact sciences are anything but exact; they rest on certain axioms which are taken for granted, and must fall to the ground the moment you insist on proving their truth. There is then nothing but authority on which man can depend.* Authority is universal reason manifested by testimony, that is to say, by an authority external to ourselves. Now no man can of himself come to the knowledge of true religion, because every individual reason is fallible ; nothing is certain but the universal reason,- that is, authority. Individual reason can arrive only at opinions; it is universal reason, the highest authority, testimony, which gives knowledge and certainty. Testimony is found only in society. Man belongs to two societies, the temporal and the spiritual. The testimony of the spiritual society is to immutable truth, and its testimony is certain, because it is the expression of universal reason.

error.

* We do not venture to translate the following passage. “Il n'y a que l'autorité qui puisse faire connaître aux hommes la vérité et la religion véritable ; non seulement l'homme ne peut connaitre son existence que par l'autorité, mais Dieu lui-même est dans ce cas, ce n'est que par une semblable révélation qu'il se connaît lui-même.” The reference is to La Mennais, tom. ii, p. 97. Our readers may like to see the passage,

6 Car la vérité n'est en Dieu même que l'éternelle raison manifestée par le témoignage du Verbe, et la certitude divine n'est qu'une foi infinie en ce témoignage éternellement rendu et éternellement cru; et la religion, qui nous unit à Dieu en nous faisant participer à sa foi et à son amour, n'est encore, dans ses dogmes, que ce témoignage traduit en notre langue par le Verbe lui-même revêtu de notre nature, ou la manifestation sensible de la raison univer-' selle; en sorte que si nous voulons y être attentifs, nous comprendrons que Dieu, avec sa toute-puissance, ne nous pouvait donner une plus haute certitude des vérités que son fils est venu nous révéler, puis qu'il ne les connaît, ou ne se connaît lui-même, que par une semblable révélation.”

Before the advent of Christ, there existed a visible spiritual society, which was the depository of primitive truths, and which rested on the testimony of the human race,—the manifestation of universal reason. Since the Christian era, this society, originally limited to one family, has become general and public. It is of course the highest authority, because its testimony as respects ancient traditions is coincident with that of the human race, and as respects other matters is the testimony of God. Amongst the various Christian communities the essential characteristics of the highest authority are found in the Catholic church; it is only in this visible spiritual society, that the marks of true religion are to be found; this alone has preserved it by its invariable uniformity of doctrine. Thus, authority leads to Catholicism, as opposition to it leads to absolute skepticism.

Such is the precious process of ratiocination by which this plausible Abbé would demonstrate the infallibility of the Papal church. We have thought it worth laying before our readers as a curiosity ; but it certainly cannot be worth while to enter into an explanation of our author's resutation of this and other similar crudities. It seems to us, we must confess, that the Abbé, as far as we can judge from the specimens here given us, has been ambitiously engaged in fabricating a parody on the mystifications of the transcendentalists; and, in attempting to grasp at some new and high way of saying old things, has contrived to get into the clouds, hoping that others at least might charitably think he talked wisdom, though he probably did not understand himself. If we should ever have occasion to publish a revised edition of Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric, we should be inclined to enlarge his section “On the causes why men write nonsense without knowing it,” by illustrations from this worthy Frenchman, and others of the same school, English and American. Meantime, it is pleasant to observe the decorous and respectful manner of M. Chenevière's reply. His tone is such as becomes the gentleman, the scholar, and the Christian ;-a circumstance which has struck us the more pleasantly, because we have been called to the perusal of writers on the Catholic question in this country, who appear to have thought themselves absolved from all obligations of propriety and decency in the conduct of the controversy ; who have outraged the rules of good breeding and the ordinary courtesies of society; and have appeared to think that their being champions for the truth was an apology for any degree of vulgarity, buffoonery, and personal abuse. We do not mean to say, that the writers on the Protestant side only have been guilty of this indecency; the advocates of the Pope have not been behind them. The combatants in this respect have been equally matched. But we could excuse it in the adversary ;- we cannot excuse it in our friends. Protestantism should wield purer weapons ; her armour should be the armour of light; her champions should be like the angel, who brings no railing accusation; and every man who disgraces the holy cause by foul speech and intemperate vituperation, who loves better to exasperate than to conciliate, to throw dirt than to argue, should be treated as a traitor to the cause he has espoused, and receive the unqualified rebuke of the Christian community.

M. Chenevière passes next to an examination of the ground taken by the “ Catholico-Protestants,"— members of the Reformed Church who oppose the exercise of reason and the right of free inquiry ; who substitute confessions of faith for canons of councils, and the opinions and commentaries of the Reformers for the dicta of the Pope; and who

act upon

refuse the name of brethren and Christians to those, who, in the conscientious use of their acknowledged rights, have arrived at results different from theirs. We do not pretend to follow him through his able discussion of this subject. The general ground is familiar to our readers, and we have no hope of affecting the minds of those who have chosen to different views. Let them go on.

Their number is becoming smaller every day. The desertions from their ranks become fearfully numerous.

Let those who still cling to the antiquated position remember, also, that every day, the number is increasing of those who deride and reject the religion of Christ on their account. They give cause to more and more, as the light of the world advances, to join in the sarcastic irony of Montaigne:-“Christians have only to meet a thing incredible, to find an occasion for believing; the more opposed it is to human reason, the more reasonable it is; if it were according to reason it would not be a miracle, and if it were agreeable to experience it would not be wonderful."

In his third section, our author states the opposite consequences of the two principles in question, and, in the fourth, illustrates them by examples. All this is very striking and fine; it cannot be read without giving new conviction to the mind of the truth of the remark which closes the chapter:-“It is unnecessary to multiply examples. We into what excesses men run, when they separate reason from faith; and I may confidently assert, that whenever they tread reason under foot, they fight against the Gospel, they raise

up

adversaries to Christianity, and inflict upon it lasting injury." Yet he has too much good sense and love of truth to allow himself in any extreme statement on the subject, or to be unaware of the dangers which may result from an abuse of the principle he advocates. He sees, that, while some have despised human reason, others have deified it. He maintains that a sober and devout mind will do neither; and therefore proceeds, by way of conclusion, to lay down the rules which are to be regarded, and by attention to which the serious inquirer may walk in that safe middle path which conducts to truth, supported on the one hand by Reason and on the other by Faith, and taking counsel of neither without the consent of the other.

Having treated of the rights of reason in ascertaining what

see

1

are the truths of revelation, it was natural to proceed next to the inquiry, whether these rights belong to every individual, or whether only to the superiors of the church, - that is, whether the leaders among Christians have a right to require of the Christian body in general, that it receive their interpretation of the word instead of interpreting it for themselves. This inquiry is the subject of the Fourth Essay. It is conducted with great spirit and thoroughness, and with much valuable illustration from ecclesiastical history ; — which, indeed, is characteristic of the writings of this author, who draws copiously at all times from the experience of former ages, and is an example to prove how much aid may be given to the cause of truth and wisdom by a familiar application of the lessons which are contained in the uninviting records of the disputes and councils, the oppressions and sufferings, the dogmatism and fanaticism, of ambitious and corrupt ages. It is a study to most men repulsive and wearisome; but it has uses that would amply repay the toil and recompense the disgust. “Like the toad, ugly and venomous," it “wears yet a precious jewel in its head." M. Chenevière is one of those who understand its value.

The Essay is divided into two parts. The first contains an examination of the arguments which are adduced in favor of creeds and confessions of faith ; the second, a statement of the reasons which are urged against them.

The arguments in defence of creeds are taken from writers of both the Catholic and the Protestant church; for, strange as it may seem, they are here found occupying common ground, - the Protestant fighting in behalf of the very principle, by the denial of which his separation from Rome is alone to be justified ! Sufficient proof of itself, we might say, that the doctrine of subscription is false as well as mischiev

The particular authors from whom this “ CatholicoProtestant” argument is taken in the present case, are, the Abbé de La Mennais, of whom we have already spoken, and Cellerier the elder, and Gaussen, distinguished ministers of Geneva. The former of these has been long celebrated as a fine and persuasive preacher. He is father to the present accomplished professor of that name, to a beautiful work of whose we hope to call attention in our next number. The latter has been recently well known from the part he has taken in opposition to the Company of the Pastors, and in the

ous.

« ElőzőTovább »