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transformation of the conceptions which seemed to them final. This transformation has a profound reality and authority to the radical, startling as it may seem to the mind that has not meditated deeply, because it appears as the fruit of that progress of faith, or progress of the human mind, which the Divine Order has imposed from the beginning, nay from“ before the foundation of the world,” and is now instantly and imperatively urging forward. It is as a fruit of the true “ supernatural,” the supernatural order, that naturalism sets aside the “supernatural” of the past. So of every detail of Christian faith. That which was venerated is set aside, not because it was not indeed Christian and true in its place; true with the life in it, spite of imperfection of form; but because it becomes false when the life is gone out of it, or when it is urged, in the manner of dogmatism, as mere form.
Our space does not permit us to do more than call attention to Miss Hennell's valuable illustration of the naturalistic method of dealing with Christianity. But we can assure our readers, after a careful study of “Present Religion,” that those of them who have interest and capacity to take her thought without too close regard to its envelope, as she herself, upon her own principle, would wish it taken, will find in it some of the most valuable results of faithful religious thinking. As it should be, for a work which is among those which break ground, “ Present Religion” is a labored work, and one not easy, but rather satisfactory, to read. The present volume being Part I. of the author's work on “ Present Religion,” the appearance of the second volume, which is to include the remaining part of the work, will furnish an occasion, we hope, for an extended and careful review of the whole work.
E. C. T.
In a second brilliant volume,* M. Renan continues his vain endeavor to recount the origin of Christianity, and interpret the faith and labors, the influence and spirit, of Christ and his apostles, upon purely natural grounds. Starting with the assumption, that miracles are things that have never happened, that all such as come within historical conditions have been traced to imposture or credulity, and that it is folly to presume that those which antedate scientific or strictly historical periods would not fall under the same condemnation, had we the means of testing them, M. Renan, professing the tenderest reverence and admiration for the gospel, leaves himself no alternative but to show how we can save something of the dignity and truth of Christianity, something of the beauty and worth of the characters of its founders, and yet concede that the history on which the world has relied for its account of them is steeped in fables, and woven in and out with feeble and absurd superstitions and miraculous pretensions. Confessing all the moral and religious superiority which its most believing disciples claim for Christianity, acknowledging its power and place in the world, contending for its perpetuity, M. Renan ascribes this religion to the moral and spiritual genius of Jesus, struggling up through the credulity and superstition of the time, and clothing itself, either intentionally or unconsciously, in the miraculous web woven for it by ignorance and delusion.
* Les Apôtres : Histoire des Origines du Christianisme. Livre Deuxième. Ernest Renan : Paris, 1866.
In the present volume, he attempts to trace the gradual growth of mythical opinion in Christ's disciples, relative to his resurrection,
- a fact, which, of course, he has to explain away; while he accounts for the early existence of belief in it, and the positive place it occupies in records, the genuineness of which he admits.
We may as well say at once, that the elaborate ingenuity of M. Renan, in accounting for the passage of simple, natural facts into supernatural fables, is, in this case and all others, to our mind trifling and wearisome. We should be better content with an abandonment of the whole history, than with the attempt to read it back into ordinary facts. The patronizing air with which this philosopher spares Christianity, while paring its miraculous pretensions away, is simply offensive. We understand the spirit of this patronage, when we see M. Renan (p. 62) not only defending, but teaching the duty of reserve on the part of Christian ministers, in expressing either their doubts or their knowledge, when likely to offend the superstitious prejudices of humble believers. M. Renan evidently thinks superstition a wholesome and necessary thing. If the common people had not a faith in miracles, we suspect M. Renan would think it not too late to invent one, and furnish their empty souls with so essential a nutriment. If one cannot be a philosopher, the next best thing is to be an enthusiast and fanatic! M. Renan does not write for plain, simple, humble Christians. Happy in their holy ignorance, cursed be the critic that disturbs their pious bliss with the learned truth! The French Revolution has taught M. Renan, he says (page 64), “what fatal consequences follow the efforts of Rationalism to govern the world without regard to the religious wants of the soul.” Are we to understand him that faith in miracles is one of these wants ? But, unhappily, since history, science, and philosophy are wholly incapable of conceding any such facts, — nay, bound to disprove the possibility of them, - the world has no resource but to protect the people in their beneficent superstitions, and thank God for the tender delusions which feed their faith and piety!
There runs through the present volume, as through the life of Jesus, a conception of religion which may be considered as characteristically Roman Catholic and French. M. Renan seems to regard the religious interests and religious life of the world as at least separable from its ordinary and secular life. It is not what religion does to strengthen and purify the reason, quicken and purge the conscience, enlarge the sphere of morality, and dignify and order life in general, that makes it a public necessity for him, but, apparently, what it does to supply common people, incapable of reasoning, ignorant of science, untrained in the use of their mental faculties, with a wholesome and comforting substitute for what sages and philosophers live on. The world must be managed, and religion is the best instrument with which to manage it. Human nature has a necessity, in its average specimens, for some kind of mystic and superstitious faith. Christianity meets this want better than any religion that has ever been invented, or which has invented itself; and wise and good men will see to it that the mind of the people is not too much or too suddenly disturbed with the doubts or denials which science and philosophy cannot but entertain. It is difficult to reconcile M. Renan's tenderness for the popular faith, his evident attachment for monks and nuns, and the ignorances of the pious poor, with his industry in destroying all the foundations of this sweet confidence.
M. Renan evidently traces Christianity to the local predominance in Palestine of a constitutional sensibility to mystic excitements, and a climatic incapacity for that intellectual activity and steadiness which would have corrected these morbid tendencies. As he says in a characteristic passage :
“Like all mystics, the new sect led a life of fasting and austerity. Like most Orientals, they ate little, which served to keep their minds exalted. The sobriety of the Syrian, a cause of physical debility, put him in a perpetual state of feverishness and nervous susceptibility. Our modern continuous intellectual efforts would be impossible on such a regimen. But this cerebral and muscular weakness led, without apparent cause, to vivid alternations of sadness and joy, which put the soul in continual relation with God. What they called a godly sorrow' passed for a celestial gift. The whole doctrine of the Fathers touching the spiritual life, all the secrets of the grand art of the inner life, - one of the most glorious creations of Christianity, had their germs in the peculiar state of feeling which transfixed, during their season of protracted ecstasy, these illustrious ancestors of all succeeding men of aspiration. Their moral state was exceptional. They lived in the supernatural: they acted only under visions. Dreams and the most insignificant events seemed to them heavenly intimations.
“ Under the name of gists of the Holy Ghost were concealed the rarest and the most exquisite effusions of the soul, — love, pity, respectful fear, sighs without object, sudden languors, spontaneous tendernesses. All that arose in man that was good, and without his own conscious part in it, was attributed to a celestial inspiration. Tears, above all, were held as a heavenly bestowment. That charming gift, privilege of the purest and the best alone, was then lavishly and sweetly abundant. We know what strength delicate natures, especially feminine ones, draw from the divine faculty of much weeping. It is their form of prayer, and certainly the holiest form. We must come down to the middle ages, to the piety steeped in the tears of Saint Bruno, Saint Bernard, and Saint Francis d'Assisi, to recover the chaste melancholy of those early days, when literally they sowed in tears to reap in joy. Weeping became an act of piety. Those who could neither preach, nor speak in tongues, nor work miracles, could weep. They wept in prayers, in preaching, in prophesying. It was the opening of the reign of tears. One might have said that souls melted, and sought, in the absence of words, to manifest themselves in their whole interior life in this touching and telling way.”—p. 72.
Can any thing be more French than this? This sentimental glorification of tears; this unstinted praise of the morbid effusions of hungry and macerated bodies ; this tracing of the gospel river back to a fountain of weeping men and women, whose brains had oozed out at their eyes,
seems to us a compound of grimace and romance, of monastic superstition and Parisian impertinence, which only a cross of monk and grisette could have produced. We do not wonder that M. Renan says elsewhere (p. 128): –
“ Monastic life is, in this sense, only the continuation of the primitive churches. The convent is the necessary consequence of the Christian spirit. Perfect Christianity is found only in convents, since the evangelical ideal can only be realized there."
We see what M. Renan thinks of perfect Christianity, - how feminine, how sentimental, how morbid a thing it is. We do not wonder that he elsewhere sneers at the home or family life of England, as a sour, narrow, and transitory form of society, which will one day give place to a kind of communism, not indeed like any thing now existing, and which M. Renan is wise in not further defining.
There is a want of practical good sense, of sound, healthy feeling in M. Renan, which gives his books almost the demoralizing influence of Bulwer's early novels, or Dumas's later ones. We do not wonder at their vast popularity. They are as intoxicating as Byron's “ Bride of Abydos ;” as laden with information, and full of picturesque description as Victor Hugo's * Toilers of the Sea.” They fatter the reader's understanding, while they excite his imagination. They are bold and plausible, destructive and conservative, full of audacious generalization and of nice detail, of careful historical study and exquisite landscape-painting, of sentimental piety and profound scepticism; but they have no hold on the real power and essence of Christianity. They are will-less and enervating: they set truth and good in opposition to each other: they found virtue on ignorance, and faith on credulity. Science and philosophy must go their own way; piety and Christian devotedness, theirs. It is not so much in what Renan says, as in what he seems truly ignorant of, that we find his greatest weakness. He evidently has not conceived of Jesus Christ as a being in whom met judgment, calmness, and wisdom, united with moral elevation, spiritual insight, and essential holiness and wholeness. His theory leads him to depict the apostles as ignorant, morbid, eccentric, and off the balance of sobriety. He degrades them all, – first, to elevate the conception of Christ, which needs no such contrast ; and, next, to account for their credulity, and perversion of the doctrine which they received. His portrait of Paul is the most painful and unfaithful we have ever seen drawn. Unbelieving in miracles, he believes in the tradition of the features of actual portraits of the great apostle; and favors us with this historic description:
“Paul's person was contemptible, and answered not, it seems, to the grandeur of his soul. He was ugly, of low stature, thick set, and hunchbacked. His broad shoulders carried oddly a small and bald head. His pallid face was buried in a thick beard, out of which loomed an aquiline nose, piercing eyes, and black eyebrows, meeting in the middle. His speech had nothing imposing. Something timid, embarrassed, incorrect, gave at first a poor idea of his eloquence. A man of tact, he blazoned his own external defects, and drew his advantages from it. The Jewish race has this peculiarity, that it presents at once types of the greatest beauty and the supremest ugliness; but Jewish ugliness is a thing by itself. Some of these homely faces, which at first excite a smile, take on, as soon as they are illumined from within, a kind of deep splendor and majesty."