1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Apologetics
APOLOGETICS, in theology, the systematic statement of the grounds which Christians allege for belief in (at least) a supernatural revelation and a divine redemption (cf. e.g. Heb. i. 1-3). The majority of apologists in the past have further believed in an infallible Bible; but they admit this position can only be reached at a late stage in the argument. We should note, however, that even a liberal orthodoxy, while saying nothing about infallibility, is pledged to the essential authority of the Bible; it cannot e.g. simply ignore the Old Testament with F. E. D. Schleiermacher. Catholic apologetics must further give a central position to Church authority, which Roman Catholics explicitly define as infallible; but this position too is debated in a late section of their system. On the other hand, there may be a Christianity which seeks to extricate the “spiritual” from the “supernatural” (Arnold Toynbee, characterizing T. H. Green). It would only lead to confusion, however, if we called this method “apologetic.” Any single effort in apologetics may be termed “an apology.” More elaborate contrasts have been proposed between the two words, but are of little practical importance.
I. The Word itself.—In Greek, ἀπολογία is the defendant’s reply (personally, not through a lawyer) to the speech for the prosecution—κατηγορία. Sometimes defendants’ speeches passed into literature, e.g. Plato’s splendid version of the Apology of Socrates. Thus, in view of persecution or slander, the Christian church naturally produced literary “Apologies,” The word has never quite lost this connotation of standing on the defensive and rebutting criticism; e.g. Anselm’s Apologia contra insipientem Gaunilonem (c. 1100); or the Lutheran Apology for the Augsburg Confession (1531); or J. H. Newman’s Apologia pro vita sua (1864); or A. B. Bruce’s Apologetics; or Christianity Defensively Stated (1892). Of course, defence easily passes into counterattack, as when early apologists denounce Greek and Roman religion. Yet the purpose may be defence even then. And there is perhaps a reason of a deeper kind for holding Apologetics to the defensive. Christianity is a prophetic religion. Now a prophet does not argue; he declares what he feels to be God’s will. For himself, he rests, like the mystic, upon an immediate vision of truth; but he differs from most mystics in having a message for others; and—again unlike most mystics—he addresses the hearer’s conscience, which we might call (in one sense) the mystic element in every man—or better, perhaps, the prophetic. Can the positive grounds for a prophet’s message be analysed and stated in terms of argument? If so, apologetics is literally a science, and it is pedantry to claim the defensive and pretend to throw the onus probandi upon objectors. But, if not, then apologetics is a mere auxiliary, and is only “a science” in so far as it presents a conscious and systematic plea. Bruce’s title, and his programme of “succouring distressed faith,” imply the latter alternative; the moral appeal of Christianity, primary and essential; its confirmation by argument, secondary. The view has its difficulties; but it is hignly suggestive.
The word ἀπολογία is used by Origen (Contra Cel. ii. 65, v. 19) of the general Christian defence. But the introduction of the adjective “apologetic” and of the substantive “apologetics” is recent. They are serviceable as bracketing together (1) Natural Theology or Theism, (2) Christian Evidence—chiefly “miracles” and “prophecy”; or, on a more modern view, chiefly the character and personality of Christ. The lower usage of Apology (as expression of regret for a fault) has tipped many a sarcasm besides George III.’s on the occasion of Bishop Watson’s book, “I did not know that the Bible needed an apology!”
II. Apologetics in the Bible.—The Old Testament does not argue in support of its beliefs, unless when (chiefly in parts of the Wisdom literature) it seeks to rebut moral difficulties (cf. T. K. Cheyne, Job and Solomon; A. S. Peake, Problem of Suffering in the Old Testament, 1904). The New Testament reflects chiefly controversy with Jews. Great emphasis is laid upon alleged fulfilments—striking or fanciful, but very generally striking to that age—of Old Testament prophecy (Matt. especially; rather differently Ep. to Heb.). The miracles of Jesus are also canvassed. Jews do not deny their wonderful character, but attribute them to black art (Mark iii. 22 &c., &c.). On the other hand, Christians and Jews are pretty well agreed on natural theology; so the New Testament tends to take its theism for granted. However, Rom. i. 20 has had great influence on Christian theology (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) in leading it to base theism upon reason or argument. One apologetic contention, aimed at Gentile readers, is found among the motives of Acts. Christianity is not a lawless but an excellent law-abiding faith. So (it is alleged) rulers, both Jewish and Gentile, have often admitted (xviii. 14; xix. 37; xxiii. 9; xxvi. 32).
III. Early Christian.—When we leave the New Testament, apologetics becomes conspicuous until the political triumph of Christianity, and even somewhat later. The atmosphere is no longer Jewish but fully Greek. True there are, as always, Jewish controversialists. Justin Martyr writes a Dialogue with Trypho; Origen deals with many anti-Christian arguments borrowed by Celsus from a certain nameless Jew. Yet Greece was the sovereign power in all the world of ancient culture. And so Christianity was necessarily Hellenized, necessarily philosophized. One result was to bring natural theology into the forefront. A pure morality, belief in one God, hopes extending beyond death—these appealed to the age; the Church taught them as philosophically true and divinely revealed. But, further still, philosophy offered a vehicle which could be applied to the contents of Christianity. The Platonic or eclectic theism, which adopted the conception of the Logos, made a place for Christ in terms of philosophy within the Godhead. (John i. 1 may or may not be affected by Philo; it is almost or quite solitary in the N.T.) Similarly, the immortality of the soul may be maintained on Platonic or quasi-Platonic lines, as by St Athanasius (Contra Gentes, § 33)—a writer who repeatedly quotes the Alexandrian Book of Wisdom, in which Platonism and the Old Testament had already joined partnership. This phase of Platonism, however, was much more slowly adopted. The earlier apologists dispute the natural immortality of the soul; Athanasius himself, in De Incarnatione Dei, §§ 4, 5, tones down the teaching of Wisdom; and the somewhat eccentric writer Arnobius, a layman—from Justin Martyr downwards apologetics has always been largely in the hands of laymen—stands for what has recently been called “conditional immortality”—eternal life for the righteous, the children of God, alone.
Allied with this more empiricist stand-point is the assertion that Greek philosophy borrowed from Moses; but in studying the Fathers we constantly find that groundless assertion uttered in the same breath with the dominant Idealist view, according to which Greek philosophy was due to incomplete revelation from the divine Logos.
On purely defensive lines, early apologists rebut charges of cannibalism and sexual promiscuity; the Christians had to meet in secret, and the gossip of a rotten age drew malignant conclusions. They make counter attacks on polytheism as a folly and on the shamefulness of obscene myths. Here they are in line with non-Christian writers or culture-mockers like Lucian of Samosata; or graver spirits like Porphyry, who champions Neo-Platonism as a rival to Christianity, and does pioneer work in criticism by attacks on some of the Old Testament books. Turning to Christian evidence proper, we are struck with the continued prominence of the argument from prophecy. The Old Testament was an immense religious asset to the early church. Their enemies had nothing like it; and—the N.T. canon being as yet but half formed—the Old Testament was pushed into notice by dwelling on this imperfect “argument,” which grew more extravagant as the partial control exercised by Jewish learning disappeared. An argument from miracles is also urged, though with more reserve. Formally, every one in that age admitted the supernatural. The question was, whose supernatural? And how far did it carry you? Miracle could not be to a 3rd century writer what it was to W. Paley—a conclusive and well-nigh solitary proof. Other apologies are by Aristides (recently recovered in translation), Athenagoras (“elegant”), Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Alexandria; in Latin by Minucius Felix, Tertullian (a masculine spirit and phrase-coiner like T. Carlyle, if bitterer still), Lactantius Firmianus, &c., &c.
As Christianity wins the day, a new objection is raised to it. The age is full of troubles; Christianity is ruining the empire! Besides notices elsewhere, we find the charge specially dealt with by St Augustine and his friends. Paulus Orosius argues that the world has always been a vale of tears. Salvian contends that not the acceptance of Christianity, but the sins of the people are bringing trouble upon them; and he gives ugly evidence of the continued prevalence of vice. Most impressive of all was Augustine’s own contribution in The City of God. Powers created by worldliness and sin are crumbling, as they well may; “the city of God remaineth!” Whether he meant it so or not, the saint’s argument became a programme and an apologia for the imperializing of the Western Church under the leadership of Rome during the middle ages.
IV. Middle Ages.—From the point of view of apologetics, we may mass together the long stretch of history which covers the period between the disappearance and the re-appearance of free discussion. When emperors became converts, the church, so lately a victim and a pleader for liberty, readily learned to persecute. Under such conditions there is little scope for apologetics. Force kills argument and drives doubt below the smooth surface of a nominal conformity. But there were two influences beyond the bounds or beyond the power of the christianized empire. The Jew remained, as always, stubbornly unconvinced, and, as often, fond of slanders. Many of the principal medieval attempts in apologetics are directed chiefly against him, e.g. the Pugio Fidei of Raymond Martini (c. 1280), which became one of Pascal’s sources (see V. below), or Peter Abelard’s Dialogus inter Judaeum Philosophum et Christianum. And the Moslem came on the scenes bringing, as a gift for Christendom, fuller knowledge of classical, especially Aristotelian, texts. The Jews, less bitterly opposed to Mahommedanism than the Christians were, caught fire more rapidly, and in some cases served as an intermediate link or channel of communication. These two religions anticipated the discussion of the problem of faith and reason in the Christian church. According to the great Avicenna and Maimonides, faith and the highest reason are sure to coincide (see Arabian Philosophy). According to Ghazali, in his Destruction of Philosophers, the various schools of philosophy cancel each other; reason is bankrupt; faith is everything. (So nearly Jehuda Halevi.) According to Averroes, reason suffices, and faith, with (what he considers) its dreams of immortality and the like, is useful only for the ignorant masses. Christian theology, however, strikes out a line of its own. Moslems and Jews were applying Aristotelian philosophy to rigorously monotheistic faiths; Christianity had been encouraged by Platonism in teaching a trinity of divine persons, and Platonism of a certain order long dominated the middle ages as part of the Augustinian tradition. In sympathy with this Platonism, the medieval church began by assuming the entire mutual harmony of faith and reason. Such is the teaching, along different lines, alike of St Anselm and of Abelard. But, when increased knowledge of Aristotle’s texts (and of the commentaries) led to the victory of a supposed Aristotelianism over a supposed Platonism, Albertus Magnus, and his still more distinguished pupil Thomas Aquinas, mark certain doctrines as belonging to faith but not to reason. They adhere to the general position with exceptions (in the case of what had been considered Platonic doctrines). From the point of view of philosophy, this was a compromise. Faith and reason partly agree, partly diverge. The tendency of the later middle ages is to add to the number of the doctrines with which philosophy cannot deal. Thomas’s great rival, Duns Scotus, does this to a large extent, at times affirming “two truths.” The latter position, ascribed by the schoolmen to the Averroists, becomes dominant among the later Nominalists, William of Occam and his disciples, who withdraw all doctrines of faith from the sphere of reason. This was a second and a more audacious compromise. It is not exactly an attempt to base Christian faith on rational scepticism. It is a consistent policy of harbouring inconsistencies in the same mind. A statement may be true in philosophy and false in theology, or vice versa. To the standpoint of Aquinas, however, the Church of Rome (at least in regard to the basis of doctrine) has more and more returned. The councils of Trent and of the Vatican mark the Two Truths hypothesis as heretical, when they affirm that there is a natural knowledge of God and natural certainty of immortality. Along with this affirmation, the Church of Rome (if less decisively) has adopted the limitations of the Thomist theory by the condemnation of “Ontologism”; certain mysterious doctrines are beyond reason. This cautious compromise sanctioned by the Church does not represent the extremest reaction against nominalism. Even in the nominalistic epoch we have Raymond of Sabunde’s Natural Theology (according to the article in Herzog-Hauck, not the title of the oldest Paris MS., but found in later MSS. and almost all the printed editions) or Liber Creaturarum (c. 1435). The book is not what moderns (schooled unconsciously in post-Reformation developments of Thomist ideas) expect under the name of natural theology. It is an attempt once more to demonstrate all scholastic dogmas out of the book of creation or on principles of natural reason. At many points it follows Anselm closely, and, of course, very often “makes light work” of its task.
The Thomist compromise—or even the more sceptical view of “two truths”—has the merit of giving filling of a kind to the formula “supernatural revelation”—mysteries inaccessible to reason, beyond discovery and beyond comprehension. According to earlier views—repeatedly revived in Protestantism—revelation is just philosophy over again. Can the choice be fairly stated? If revelation is thought of as God’s personal word, and redemption as his personal deed, is it reasonable to view them either as open to a sort of scientific prediction or as capricious and unintelligible? Even in the middle ages there were not wanting those—the St Victors, Bonaventura—who sought to vindicate mystical if not moral redemption as the central thought of Christianity.
V. Earlier Modern Period.—It will be seen that apologetics by no means reissued unchanged from the long period of authority. The compromise of Aquinas, though not unchallenged, holds the field and that even with Protestants. G. W. Leibnitz devotes an introductory chapter in his Théodicée, 1710 (as against Pierre Bayle), to faith and reason. He is a good enough Lutheran to quote as a “mystery” the Eucharist no less than the Trinity, while he insists that truths above are not against reason. Stated thus baldly, has the distinction any meaning? The more celebrated and central thesis of the book—this finite universe, the best of all such that are possible—also restates positions of Augustine and Aquinas.
Before modern philosophy began its career, there was a great revival of ancient philosophy at the Renaissance; sometimes anti-Christian, sometimes pro-Christian. The latter furnishes apologies by Marsilio Ficino, Agostino Steuco, J. L. Vives.
Early in the modern period occurs the great name of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). A staunch Roman Catholic, but belonging to a school of Augustinian enthusiasts (the Jansenists), whom the Church put down as heretics, he stands pretty much apart from the general currents. His Pensées, published posthumously, seems to have been meant for a systematic treatise, but it has come to us in fragments. Once again, a lay apologist! A layman’s work may have the advantage of originality or the drawback of imperfect knowledge. Pascal’s work exhibits both characters. It has the originality of rare genius, but it borrows its material (as industrious editors have shown) from very few sources—the Pugio Fidei, M. de Montaigne, P. Charron. Ideas as well as learning are largely Montaigne’s. The latter’s cheerful man-of-the-world scepticism is transfigured in Pascal to a deep distrust of human reason, in part, perhaps, from anti-Protestant motives. But this attitude, while not without parallels both earlier (Ghazali, Jehuda Halevi) and later (H. L. Mansel), has peculiarities in Pascal. It is fallen man whom he pursues with his fierce scorn; his view of man’s nature—intellect as well as character—is to be read in the light of his unflinching Augustinianism. Again, Pascal, unlike most apologists, belongs to the small company of saintly souls. This philosophical sceptic is full of humble joy in salvation, of deep love for the Saviour.
Another French Roman Catholic apologist, P. D. Huet (1630-1721)—within the conditions of his age a prodigy of learning (in apologetics see his Demonstratio Evangelica)—is not uninfluenced by Pascal (Traité de la faiblesse de l’esprit humaine).
As we might expect, Protestant lands are more busily occupied with apologetics. Intolerant reliance upon force presents greater difficulties to them; soon it grows quite obsolete. Benedict Spinoza, the eminent Jewish pantheist (1632-1677), to whom miracle is impossible, revelation a phrase, and who renews pioneer work in Old Testament criticism, finds at least a fair measure of liberty and comfort in Holland (his birth-land). Bayle, the historical sceptic, lectured and published his learned Dictionnaire (1696) at Rotterdam. From Holland, earlier, had proceeded an apologetic work by a man of European fame. Hugo Grotius’s De Veritate Christianae Religionis (1627) is partly the medieval tradition:—Oppose Mahommedans and Jews! It is partly practical:—Arm Christian sailors against religious danger! But in its cool spirit it forecasts the coming age, whose master is John Locke. His Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) is the thesis of “a whole century” of theologians. And his Essay on the Human Understanding (1690) is almost a Bible to men of education during the same period; its lightest word treasured. Locke does not break with the compromise of Aquinas. But he transfers attention from contents to proof. Reason proves that a revelation has been made—and then submits. Leibnitz has to supplement rather than correct Locke on this point.
In such an atmosphere, deism readily uttered its protest against mysterious revelation. Deism is, in fact, the Thomist natural theology (more clearly distinguished from dogmatic theology than in the middle ages, alike by Protestants and by the post-Tridentine Church of Rome) now dissolving partnership with dogmatic and starting in business for itself. Or it is the doctrine of unfallen man’s “natural state”—a doctrine intensified in Protestantism—separating itself from the theologians’ grave doctrine of sin. If Socinianism had challenged natural theology—Christ, according to it, was the prophet who first revealed the way to eternal life—it had glorified the natural powers of man; and the learning of the Arminian divines (friends of Grotius and Locke) had helped to modernize Christian apologetics upon rational lines. Deism now taught that reason, or “the light of nature,” was all-sufficient.
Not to dwell upon earlier continental “Deists” (mentioned by Viret as quoted first in Bayle’s Dictionary and again in the introduction to Leland’s View of the Deistical Writers), Lord Herbert of Cherbury (De Veritate, 1624; De Religione Gentilium, 1645?—according to J. G. Walch’s Bibliotheca Theologica (1757) not published complete until 1663) was universally understood as hinting conclusions hostile to Christianity (cf. also T. Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, ch. xxxi.; Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670, ch. xiv.). Professedly, Herbert’s contention merely is that non-Christians feeling after the “supreme God” and the law of righteousness must have a chance of salvation. Herbert was also epoch-making for the whole 18th century in teaching that priests had corrupted this primitive faith. During the 18th century deism spread widely, though its leaders were “irrepressible men like Toland, men of mediocre culture and ability like Anthony Collins, vulgar men like Chubb, irritated and disagreeable men like Matthew Tindal, who conformed that he might enjoy his Oxford fellowship and wrote anonymously that he might relieve his conscience” (A. M. Fairbairn). More distinguished sympathizers are Edward Gibbon, who has the deistic spirit, and David Hume, the historian and philosophical sceptic, who has at least the letter of the deistic creed (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion), and who uses Pascal’s appeal to “faith” in a spirit of mockery (Essay on Miracles). In France the new school found powerful speaking-trumpets, especially Voltaire, the idol of his age—a great denier and scoffer, but always sincerely a believer in the God of reason—and the deeper but wilder spirit of J. J. Rousseau. Others in France developed still more startling conclusions from Locke’s principles, E. B. Condillac’s sensationalism—Locke’s philosophy purged of its more ideal if less logical elements—leading on to materialism in J. O. de la Mettrie; and at least one of the Encyclopedists (P. H. von Holbach) capped materialism with confessed atheism.
In Germany the parallel movement of “illumination” (H. S. Reimarus; J. S. Semler, pioneer in N.T. criticism; and a layman, the great Lessing) took the form of “rationalism” within the church—interpreting Bible texts by main force in a way which the age thought “enlightened” (H. E. G. Paulus, 1761-1851, &c.).
Among the innumerable English anti-deistic writers (see W. Law, The Case of Reason; R. Bentley, or “Phileleutherus Lipsiensis”; &c., &c.), three are of chief importance. Nathaniel Lardner (Arian, 1684-1768) stands in the front rank of the scholarship of his time, and uses his vast knowledge to maintain the genuineness of all books of the New Testament and the perfect accuracy of its history. Joseph Butler, a very original, careful and honest thinker, lifts controversy with deists from details to principles in his Analogy of Religion both Natural and Revealed to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1736). This title introduces us to a new conception. Deists and orthodox in those days agreed in recognizing not merely natural theology but natural religion—“essential religion,” Butler more than once styles it; the expression shows how near he stood intellectually to those he criticized. But morally he stood aloof. In part i.—on Natural Religion—he defends a moral or punishing Deity against the sentimental softness of the age. The God of Nature, whom deists confess does punish in time, if they will but look at the facts; why not in eternity? “Morality,” as others have confessed, is “the nature of things”! Not the Being of God is discussed—Butler will not waste words on triflers (as he thinks them) who deny that—but God’s character. Unfortunately (perhaps) Butler prefers to argue on admitted principles; holds much of his own moral belief in reserve; tries to reduce everything to a question of probable fact. If this hampers him in part i., the situation appears still worse in part ii., which is directly occupied with the defence of Christianity. Butler says nothing about incomprehensible mysteries, and protests that reason is the only ground we have to proceed upon. But by treating the atonement simply as revealed (and unexplained) matter of fact—in spite of some partial analogies in human experience, a thing essentially anomalous—Butler repeats, and applies to the moral contents of Christianity, what Aquinas said of its speculative doctrines. (Whether one calls the unknowable a revealed mystery or an unexplained and inexplicable fact makes little difference.) William Paley (1743-1805) borrows from many writers; he borrows Lardner’s learning and Butler’s “particular evidence for Christianity,” viz. miracles, prophecy and “history”; and he states his points with perfect clearness. No man ever filled a typical position more exactly than Paley. Eighteenth-century ethics—Hedonism, with a theological background. Empiricist Natural Theology—the argument from Design. Christian Evidences—the strong probability of the resurrection of Christ and the consequent authority of his teaching. Horae Paulinae—mutual confirmations of Acts and Epistles; better, though one-sided. When such exclusively “external” arguments are urged, the contents of Christianity go for next to nothing.
VI. Later Modern Period.—Towards the end of the 18th century a new epoch of reconstruction begins in the thought and life of civilization. The leader in speculative philosophy is Immanuel Kant, though he includes many agnostic elements, and draws the inference (which some things in the letter of Butler might seem to warrant) that the essence of Christianity is an ethical theism. While he thus created a new and more ethical “rationalism,” Kant’s many-sided influence, alike in philosophy and in theology, worked to further issues. He (and other Germans, but not G. W. F. Hegel) was represented in England in a fragmentary way by S. T. Coleridge (1772-1834), probably the most typical figure of his period—another layman. His general thought was that “rationalism” represents an uprising of the lower reason or “understanding” against the higher or true “reason.” The mysteries of theology are its best part—not alien to reason but of its substance, the “logos.” This is to upset the compromise of Aquinas and go back to a Christian platonism. Of course the difficulty revives again: If a philosophy, why supernaturally revealed? Thomas Arnold, criticizing Edward Hawkins, appeals rather to the atonement as deeper neglected truth. So in Scotland, Thomas Erskine and Thomas Chalmers—the latter in contradiction to his earlier position—hold that the doctrine of salvation, when translated into experience, furnishes “internal evidence”—a somewhat broader use of the phrase than when it applies merely to evidence of date or authorship drawn from the contents of a book. This gives a new and moral filling to the conception of “supernatural revelation” The attempt to work out either of the reactions against Thomism in new theological systems is pretty much confined to Germany. Hegel’s theological followers, of every shade and party, represent the first, and Schleiermacher’s the second. Schleiermacher rejects natural religion in favour of the positive religions, while the school of A. Ritschl and W. Herrmann reject natural theology outright in favour of revelation—a striking external parallel to early Socinianism. British and American divines, on the other hand, are slow to suspect that a new apologetic principle may mean a new system of apologetics, to say nothing of a new dogmatic. Among the evangelicals, for the most part, natural theology, far from being rejected, is not even modified, and certain doctrines continue to be described as incomprehensible mysteries. No Protestant, of course, can agree with Roman Catholic theology that (supernatural) faith is an obedient assent to church authority and the mysteries it dictates. To Protestantism, faith is personal trust. But the principle is hardly ever carried out to the end. Mysterious doctrines are ascribed by Protestants to scripture; so half of revelation is regarded as matter for blind assent, if another half is luminous in experience. The movement of German philosophy which led from Kant to Hegel has indeed found powerful British champions (T. H. Green, J. and E. Caird, &c.), but less churchly than Coleridge (or F. D. Maurice or B. F. Westcott), though churchly again in J. R. Illingworth and other contributors to Lux Mundi (1890). Before this wave of thought, H. L. Mansel tried (1858) to play Pascal’s game on Kantian principles, developing the sceptical side of Kant’s many-faceted mind. But as he protested against relying on the human conscience—the one element of positive conviction spared by Kant—his ingenuity found few admirers except H. Spencer, who claims him as justifying anti-Christian agnosticism. Butler’s tradition was more directly continued by J. H. Newman—with modifications on becoming a Roman Catholic in the light of the church’s decision in favour of Thomism. A. M. Fairbairn (Catholicism, Roman and Anglican, ch. v., and elsewhere) and E. A. Abbott (Philomythus, and elsewhere) suspect Newman of a sceptical leaven and extend the criticism to Butler’s doctrine of “probability.” Yet it seems plain that any theology, maintaining redemption as historical fact (and not merely ideal), must attach religious importance to conclusions which are technically probable rather than proven. If we transfer Christian evidence from the “historical” to the “philosophical” with H. Rashdall—we surely cut down Christianity to the limits of theism. And the inner mind of Butler has moral anchorage in the Analogy, quite as much as in the Sermons. It is in part ii. more than in part i. of his masterpiece that the light seems to grow dim. Another of the Oxford converts to Rome, W. G. Ward, made vigorous contributions to natural theology.
VII. Contents of Modern Apologetics.—Superficially regarded, philosophy ebbs and flows, whatever progress the debate may reveal to speculative insight. Old positions re-emerge from forgetfulness, and there is always a philosophy to back every “case.” More visible dangers arise for the apologist in the region of science, historical or physical. There the progress of truth, within whatever limits, is manifest. Essays and Reviews (1860) was a vehement announcement of scientific results—startling English conservatism awake for the first time. And in the scientific region the great apologetic classics, like Butler, are hopelessly out of date. The modern apologist must do ephemeral work—unless it should chance that he proves to be the skirmisher, pioneering for a modified dogmatic. He holds a watching brief. While he must beware of hasty speech, he has often to plead that new knowledge does not really threaten faith; or that it is not genuinely established knowledge at all; or else, that faith has mistaken its own grounds, and will gain strength by concentrating on its true field. The work is not always well done; but the Christian church needs it.
1. Apologetics and Philosophy.—The main part of this subject is discussed under Theism. Some notes may be added on special points, (a) Freewill is generally assumed on the Christian side (R. C. Church; Scottish philosophy; H. Lotze; J. Martineau; W. G. Ward. Not in a libertarian sense; Leibnitz. New and obscure issues raised by Kant). But there is no continuous tradition or steady trend of discussion. (b) Personal immortality is affirmed as philosophically certain by the Church of Rome and many Protestant writers. Others teach “conditional immortality.” Others base the hope on belief in the resurrection of Christ, (c) Theodicy—the tradition of Leibnitz is preserved (on libertarian lines) by Martineau (A Study of Religion, 1883). See also F. R. Tennant’s Origin and Propagation of Sin (1902)—sin a “bye-product” of a generally good evolution. Others find in the gospel of redemption the true theodicy. (d) The problem of Christian apologetic has been simplified in the past by the prevalence of the Christian ethics and temper even among many non-Christians (e.g. J. S. Mill). But hereafter it may not prove possible for the apologist to assume as unchallenged the Christian moral outlook. Germans have suspected an anti-Christian strain in Goethe; all the world knows of it in E. von Hartmann or F. Nietzsche.
2. Apologetics and Physical Science.—(a) Copernicanism has won its battles and the Church of Rome would fain have its error forgotten. The admission is now general that the Bible cannot be expected to use the language of scientific astronomy. Still, it is not certain that the shock of Copernicanism on supernatural Christianity is exhausted. (b) Geology has also won its battles, and few now try to harmonize it with Genesis. (c) Evolution came down from the clouds when C. Darwin and A. R. Wallace succeeded in displacing the naïf conception of special creation by belief in the origin of species out of other species through a process of natural law. This gave immense vogue to wider and vaguer theories of evolutionary process, notably to H. Spencer’s grandiose cosmic formula in terms of mechanism. Here the apologist has more to say. The special Darwinian hypothesis—natural “selection”—may or may not be true; it was at least a fruitful suggestion. If true, it need not be exhaustive. Again, evolution itself need not apply everywhere. We are offered a philosophical rather than a scientific speculation when E. Caird (Evolution of Religion, 1893) tries to vindicate Christianity as the highest working of nature—true just because evolved from lower religions. The Christian apologist indeed may himself seek, following John Fiske, to philosophize evolution as a restatement of natural theology—“one God, one law, one element and one far-off divine event”—and as at least pointing towards personal immortality. But if evolution is to be the whole truth regarding Christianity, we should have to surrender both supernatural revelation and divine redemption. And these, it may be strongly urged, contain the magic of Christianity. Losing them it might sink into a lifeless theory.
As far as pure science goes, the inference from science in favour of materialism has visibly lost much of its plausibility, and Protestant apologists would probably be prepared to accept in advance all verified discoveries as belonging to a different region from that of faith. Roman Catholic apologetic prefers to negotiate in detail.
3. Apologetics and History.—History brings us nearer the heart of the Christian position. (a) Old Testament criticism won startling victories towards the end of the 19th century. It blots out much supposed knowledge, but throws a vivid and interesting light on the reconstrued process of history. Most Protestants accept the general scheme of criticism; those who hang back make not a few concessions (e.g. J. Orr, Problem of the O.T., 1906). The Roman Catholic Church again prefers an attitude of reserve, (b) New Testament criticism raises even more delicate issues. Positively it may be affirmed that the recovered figure of the historical Jesus is the greatest asset in the possession of modern Christian theology and apologetics. The “Lives” of Christ, Roman Catholic and Protestant; “critical” (D. F. Strauss, A. Renan, &c., &c.) and “believing,” imply this at least. Negatively, “unchallenged historical certainties” are becoming few in number, or are disappearing altogether, through the industry of modern minds. True, the Tübingen criticism of F. C. Baur and his school—important as the first scientific attempt to conceive New Testament conditions and literature as a whole—has been abandoned. (A. Ritschl’s Entstehung der alt-katholischen Kirche, 2nd edition, 1857, was an especially telling reply.) The synoptic gospels are now treated with considerable respect. It is no longer suggested in responsible quarters that they are party documents sacrificing truth to “tendency.” But not all quarters are responsible; and in the effort to grasp scientifically, i.e. accurately, the amazing facts of Christ and primitive Christianity, every imaginable hypothesis is canvassed. Even the Roman Catholic Church produced the Abbé Loisy (though he undertakes to play off church certainties against historical uncertainties). Hitherto at least the fourth gospel has been the touchstone. The authorship of the epistles is in many cases a matter of subordinate importance; at least for Protestants or for those surrendering Bible infallibility, which Rome can hardly do. (c) New Testament history. The apologist must maintain (1) that Jesus of Nazareth is a real historical figure—a point well-nigh overlooked by Strauss, and denied by some modern advocates of a mythical theory; (2) that Jesus is knowable (not one “of whom we really know very little”—B. Jowett) in his teaching, example, character, historical personality; and that he is full of moral splendour. On the other hand, faith has no special interest in claiming that we can compose a biographical study of the development of Jesus. Certainly no early writer thought of providing material for such use. It is a common opinion in Germany that our material is in fact too scanty or too self-contradictory. Yet the fascination of the subject will always revive the attempt. If it succeeds, there will be a new line of communication along which that great personality will tell on men’s minds and hearts. If it fails—there are other channels; character can be known and trusted even when we are baffled by a thing necessarily so full of mystery as the development of a personality. Notably, the manifest non-consciousness of personal guilt in Jesus suggests to us his sinlessness. (3) Apologists maintain that Jesus “claimed” Messiahship. There are speculative constructions of gospel history which eliminate that claim; and no doubt apologetics could—with more or less difficulty—restate its position in a changed form if the paradox of to-day became accepted as historical fact to-morrow. The central apologetic thesis is the uniqueness of the “only-begotten”; it is here that “the supernatural” passes into the substance of Christian faith. But most probably the description of Jesus as thus unique will continue to be associated with the allegation—He told us so; he claimed Messiahship and “died for the claim.” (See preface to 5th ed. of Ecce Homo.) Nor did so superhuman a claim crush him, or deprive his soul of its balance. He imparted to the title a grander significance out of the riches of his personality. (4) In the light of this the “argument from prophecy” is reconstructed. It ceases to lay much stress upon coincidences between Old Testament predictions or “types” and events in Christ’s career. It becomes the assertion; historically, providentially, the expectation of a unique religious figure arose—“the” Messiah; and Jesus gave himself to be thought of as that great figure. (5) It is also claimed as certain that Jesus had marvellous powers of healing. More reserve is being shown towards the other or “nature” miracles. These latter, it may be remarked, are more unambiguously supernatural. But, if Jesus really cured leprosy or really restored the dead to life, we have miracle plainly enough in the region of healing. (6) For Jesus’ own resurrection several lines of evidence are alleged. (i.) All who believe that in any sense Christ rose again insist upon the impression which his personality made during life. It was he whose resurrection seemed credible! Some practically stop here; the apologist proceeds. (ii.) There is the report of the empty grave; historically, not easily waved aside. (iii.) We have New Testament reports of appearances of the risen Jesus; subjective? the mere clothing of the impression made by his personality during life? or objective? “telegrams” from heaven (Th. Keim)—“Veridical Hallucinations”? or something even more, throwing a ray of light perhaps on the state and powers of the happy dead? (iv.) There is the immense influence of Jesus Christ in history, associated with belief in him as the risen Son of God.
In view of the claims of Jesus, different possibilities arise. (i.) The evangelists impute to him a higher claim than he made. This may be called the rationalistic solution; with sympathy in Christ’s ethical teaching, there is relief at minimizing his great claim. So, brilliantly, Wellhausen’s Gospel commentaries and Introduction. (Mark fairly historical; other gospels’ fuller account of Christ’s teaching and claims unreliable.) (ii.) The claim was fraudulent (Reimarus; Renan, ed. 1; popular anti-Christian agitation). This is a counsel of despair. (iii.) He was an enthusiastic dreamer, expecting the world’s end. This the apologist will recognize as the most plausible hostile alternative. He may feel bound to admit an element of illusion in Christ’s vision’ of the future; but he will contend that the apocalyptic form did not destroy the spiritual content of Christ’s revelations—nay, that it was itself the vehicle of great truths. So he will argue as the essence of the matter that (iv.) he who has occupied Christ’s place in history, and won such reverence from the purest souls, was what he claimed to be, and that his many-sidedness comes to focus and harmony when we recognize him as the Christ of God and the Saviour of the world.
To a less extent, similar problems and alternatives arise in regard to the church:—Catholicism a compromise between Jewish Christianity and Pauline or Gentile Christianity (F. C. Baur, &c.); Catholicism the Hellenizing of Christianity (A. Ritschl, A. Harnack); the Catholic church for good and evil the creation of St Paul (P. Wernle, H. Weinel); the church supernaturally guided (R. C. apologetic; in a modified degree High Church apologetic); essential—not necessarily exclusive—truth of Paulinism, essential error in first principles of Catholicism (Protestant apologetic).
- While these writings are of great historical value, they do not, of course, represent the Christian argument as conceived to-day. The Church of Rome prefers medieval or modern statements of its position; Protestantism can use only modern statements.