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Jewish and Christian Ethics/Chapter II

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The Doctrines upon which the Christian Code of Morals is founded—Abolition of the Law—How it is understood by Jesus—Faith without Works.—Rupture between Catholicism and Protestantism.—With Paul, Faith, without Works, Saves—Contempt for the Body; Mysticism—It ends in Immorality and Materialism; Proofs from Reason and History—Gnosticism and its Excesses; Its Seed in the Gospel—The Spiritualism of Paul, what—The Liberty of Spiritual Death—The Faithful, dead in Jesus Christ; Origin of this Fiction—They rise with Him; Another Fiction, its Origin and Effects upon Morality—The Redemption—"The Law, the cause of Sin"—The Redemption of the Jew, the Christian.

But before proceeding with this comparison, let us examine whether certain doctrines, forming the basis of Christian ethics, are as sure and immoveable as represented. All agree, that a building, however large and splendid, affords no secure protection, if its solidity be not in proportion to its size. Are the foundations of the Christian ethics, so solid, that unaided, it irrisistably conquers all hearts?

An announcement made almost at the birth of Christianity, was calculated to have great influence in moulding the-destiny of its ethics, and that was the abolition of the Law. Our duty at present is not to examine the great question concerning the relations of Jesus to the Law, or to what degree he advocated its preservation or annulment. If we might anticipate what we have to say respecting the Law, we should say that Jesus, thinking the era of the Messiah identical with that of the resurrection or universal regeneration, believed he was on the eve of legitimately abrogating the Law, when the dead, just before rising from their graves, should assume immortal bodies.

We shall soon have occasion to see what deep roots this belief had in existing Judaism, and how, for want of the reality, of a proper and real resurrection the Christians substituted a figurative one—a pure fiction. However that may be, the abolition of the Law was early proclaimed by Christianity. Now, it is easy to imagine into what trouble and confusion this bold stroke would throw the conscience, and what grand dangers a system of ethics, formulized, sanctioned and taught by this very Law whose fall it announced, was about to encounter. We ought to be able to cite facts and illustrations as to the results we indicate, and we shall accordingly soon see them teeming, after we shall have enumerated, the causes which left Christianity, from its very origin, at the mercy of the waves of opinion, and even exposed to destruction. What we wish to state here is the fatal precedent that Christianity established against morality by this abolition of the Law. For mark well: when a nation possesses a revealed code, meant to rule the mind, when in this revelation the entire life of a people is regulated and marked out in advance, when neither the actions, the feelings nor the moral relations of man with man escape its provisions, when finally the ethical system, of the same parent as the jurisprudence, the political economy, the mode of worship, the religious doctrines,—shakes off its authority; when this nation, accustomed for ages to regard this revelation as its rule of conduct in ethics as well as religion, and the most natural ethical precepts as positive laws, is told some fine day that this law "is played out," that it was only the type and shadow of what was to come, that, at best, it was only good for children, that it is the source of "death and sin," nothing better than "wretched slavery" (Paul), that a law of freedom (?) is about to replace it; when this great word, freedom, is sounded in a thousand ways and on all occasions; much more, when the Gentiles, who know nothing of the law of Moses, hear that a revelation which had provided for ethics as well as worship, is about to give way to a law of grace, of freedom—who does not see that morality is struck down with doctrine, worship and legislation? Where shall reason take refuge when this great catastrophe arrives? For let it be well understood, here is not a reason of philosophy which, by its own strength, has formed a system of ethics purely rational; nor yet a dawning reason, that distinguishes what comes from its own nature from within, from what comes to it from without—but the reason of antiquity, of all time, of every kind, that admits and recognizes a revelation. What shall it substitute for this ruined ethical system? It has neither an ethics of philosophy nor of nature to put in its place; it has only sentiment, and of that it avails itself. This, in my opinion, is the most probable explanation of that predominance of sentiment in the Christian ethics. This is why its first founders incessantly appeal to sentiment and not to reason; this is the source from which the Christian ethics has drawn the grace, pathos and delicacy that so characterize it; and hence, too, the horror of polemical disputation, Faith usurping the place of logic and science.

In vain, truly, would it have appealed to reason, for this would have always opposed to its new masters, that law of Moses, that Judaism, ethical no less than doctrinal and legislative, given by the very God that was preached yet repudiated. In vain would it have added that the will of God, changed as to all else, had remained fixed and unaltered as to ethics; in vain would it have laboriously gleaned and sifted from civil and religious ordinances, from doctrine and ritual, those moral precepts blended and incorporated with the general system, to construct something independent, sacred and inviolable from the wreck of Judaism. Reason would have rejected these arbitrary distinctions. It would have pointed to the same God, the same revelation giving the most sublime moral precepts, as, To love one's neighbor as one's self, in conjunction with the humblest, the most mysterious of ritual prohibitions against the mixing of seeds. It would have said that if the will of God changed on one point it might change on another; that no difference of language, no mark, in this system so homogeneous, indicated what was for a time, and what was for ever; that the ceremonials of the system, its rewards, punishments, and exhortations gave the ethical part no special, independent or privileged place; that quite the contrary, penalties the most terrible, rewards the most munificent were attached to the ceremonial laws, exactly, perhaps, because they have such weak roots in the heart and reason of man. Such is the language of reason. And this language was, in all probability actually uttered, not only by the faithful, but forced likewise, by logic and good sense, from the apostles themselves, and above-all from those who took the most active part in the abolition of the Law. Among the latter the chief place certainly belongs to Paul. Now what is the new principle proclaimed by him? It is faith; faith as the highest virtue enjoined on mankind, faith opposed as such not only to science, to vain disputes, to vain jargon, as we have elsewhere observed, but also faith opposed as such to works; that is to say,—if one believes in Jesus, the God—Messiah, in his personal divinity and mission, in the efficacy of his death, in his resurrection, he has no longer need of works to obtain salvation.

We should be sorely grieved, could it be thought for an instant that we wished to calumniate the Christian ethics. No one disputes the truth of what we are about to say. Christians of every sect and color agree, that Paul, the great Christian legislator and moralist, teaches the doctrine of justification by faith without works. But the principle thus laid down appeared so revolting, so opposed to the noblest instincts of the human heart, so contrary to the sentimental morality Christianity was preaching, that restrictions were soon made to narrow its scope. While Protestantism, obeying logic and reason alone, drew boldly from this principle all its consequences and proclaimed moral works useless and pernicious, faith alone being sufficient for salvation; Catholicism, on the other hand, having an external authority, social and political, being itself at once a government and a religion, recoiled in terror, from these destructive consequences, from this licentious morality, and interpreted the "works" of Paul in the most restricted sense, namely as the works of the Law, as the practice of the Mosaical code, and declared, against the Protestants in the council of Trent, the necessity of good works. It was a return to the old Hebrew ethics, it was a total rejection of the Apostle of the Gentiles, it was a great diminution of the importance, the efficacy of the redemption.

Accordingly, we see the Protestants use towards the Catholics the same language Paul used towards the Pharisees and Judaizing Christians, and class the Catholics with the Jews. "The Catholic doctors", says Mosheim, "confound the Law with the Gospel, and represent everlasting happiness as the reward of good works. Is it not here lies the true sense, the veritable intention of Paul?" This is the ground upon which, as we have just said, the great battle between Protestants and Catholics took place. The ethics of Paul is, in our opinion, that indeed which reason and independent criticism gave him through the mouth of Protestantism. The arguments and verbiage of Paul are express thereon. He presents us, as an example of his theory, Abraham, justified not by works but by faith.[1] Now, the works of Abraham, which "were not reckoned to him for righteousness," according to Paul, were not, as far as I know, works of the Law, which had not as yet been given, but truly moral works, in the strictest sense; charity, justice, hospitality, philanthropy, teaching, virtue, monotheism sown among the Gentiles. And, nevertheless, Abraham was not justified by his works, but indeed by his faith. Could any one, who referred only to the works of the Law, so speak? And, furthermore, I affirm, that if the example chosen by Paul be altogether conclusive, the language used and the consequences drawn are altogether unmistakeable: "For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt."[2] Here, then, we have all title to recompense, all meritorious works declared null. This is not all: "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,"[3] Thus, no doubt is possible—without works, and however wicked, one's faith alone in him who justifies the wicked, saves. Do we want more? Hear Paul, in continuation: "Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputed righteousness without works, saying: 'Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. He to whom the Lord will not impute sin.' " That is to say, according to the sense given by Paul to these words of David, the grace of faith confers remission of sin, the imputation of righteousness. And in Romans (iii. 27), "boasting" is declared "excluded," not by the "law of works," but by the " law of faith." And so in the Epistle to the Galatians (ii. 16), he teaches that man is not justified by the works of the Law (without any distinction), but solely by faith in Jesus Christ. It is true that in the third Epistle to the Romans, verse 31, the Apostle declares that he does not wish to "make void the law by faith," but on the contrary, to "establish" it; and that in the Epistle to the Galatians (ii. 17) he exhorts against sinning, but, in the first place, that was because he imitated in this respect the language of the Master, who saw in Christianity only whatever was spiritual and permanent, real and tangible in the old law itself; and in the second, because he himself felt all the danger of his principles, foresaw the immorality that might arise in the world under the shield of faith alone justifying. In fine, I affirm, that if he condemns sin, if he does not want all the license consistent with faith, it is for the sake of expediency, and for a purely secondary consideration. For, mark well, it is not in the name of truth, justice or virtue, absolutely, that Paul permits not sin under the rule of faith, but it is because faith, fully equal to the pardon of every crime, could not very well be made the accomplice and instrument of evil, nor "Christ the minister of sin." See to what a point Christianity must descend to find a prop for its ethics, after having taken away its old and natural base, the Law!

Would we glance at the necessary and natural links that, in the minds of Christians, united good works with the law-making both solid and inseparable. They are that Paul, who wants faith without works, is the greatest enemy to the ceremonial law; and that, on the other hand, James, perhaps the most conservative apostle and the advocate of the necessity of works, is also the most favorable to the law.

This is not the only peril that Christianity made its ethics incur. Is there no danger in this contempt for the body, for "this sinful flesh that hampers us, and that we should detest," and in Christianity's launching its anathemas against matter, and making this the object of its rabid tirades? Are self-denial, martyrdom, heroism, the only results? We admit, willingly, that contempt of the body, when made a rule of life, begets often marvellous virtues, which the world admires, and that it proved a powerful support against the rude shocks Christianity at first encountered. But besides the world, there is a power called logic, which, sooner or later, draws from every principle all the conclusions it involves. Xow, it can be fearlessly asserted, that from contempt of the body, of the flesh, as it was understood and practised by Christianity, must one day come the vilest materialism, the most unbridled licentiousness, the most shocking immorality. Doubtless, there appears to be nothing so paradoxical, so incredible as the union of contempt for the body with sensuality. But logic and history prove that this is not only possible but almost always inevitable. What does logic teach? That one may be a materialist and addicted to all carnal excesses in two different ways. Matter may be paid an extravagant worship, be thought alone worthy of our care and love, be considered as the whole of man, over whom it should hold despotic sway, and that no rein or restriction should be put on its demands. But the materialism of which we speak is of another kind; it is when a super-refinement of spiritualism cuts assunder the constituent parts of our being, and by care and effort detaches the spirit from its earthly shrine; when, by dint of zeal, selfdenial and indefatigable perseverance it succeeds in isolating the noblest part of our nature, in snapping all the links that bind it to the body, and in giving it an existence absolutely independent of the necessities and reactions of the flesh; when through this gulf of separation it succeeds in attaining this vaunted apostolic liberty, wherein the spirit, no longer bound to earth, soars to a sphere where the echo of life's joys and woes do not come. A great proof, doubtless, of the nobleness of our nature, but likewise a perilous flight, a fatal separation! since the seductive liberty gained for the spirit sets free also all the vilest instincts of the animal. No more influence now, it is true, of the body upon the spirit, but also no more control of the body by the soul. Why should it descend to concern itself about a miserable animal? Why should it dwell with a thing so full of care, turmoil and disorder, to be its governor and guide? This is how an excessive contempt for the flesh ends in materialism, as we have just seen that the vilest materialism springs from too great an esteem and consideration for the flesh. This is the teaching of logic. Does experience speak less loudly? Does not history show us that whenever mysticism allows itself full rein, it is inevitably dragged into the most monstrous excesses, the most ignoble pleasures, sometimes by the impetuosity of a body abandoned to itself, and, what is not a little singular, at others, by a sensuality regulated, established, sanctioned in advance by that very spiritualism which, a little while ago, disdained to enjoin on the body order, temperance, virtue, duty?

Far from us the thought of renewing against Christianity the old pagan accusations! Far from us the thought of charging to the evangelical Christians those banquets, festivals and orgies that scandalized the decent folks of Paganism! We far prefer to say, with the Christian apologist, that it was the -Gnostics solely who astonished and shocked the world by these hideous exhibitions. Still the Gnostics were Christians, wicked ones, if you will, disorderly and sensual, but accepting the dogmas, principles and preaching of Christianity, though attaching themselves chiefly to Peter and Paul, as we shall show elsewhere; and, above all, the causes and seeds of these strange abuses lay truly in the Gospels. Do they not announce in every page the contempt and condemnation of the flesh? Do they not declare its works null, useless for salvation, provided there be faith in Jesus Christ? Do they not advocate a worship in spirit as the highest degree of human perfection? Do they not propose to man, as his noblest task here below, the detachment of his spirit from the flesh of sin, so as to gain this "liberty of the children of God," procured by faith, and not by works, the evidence, per contra, of lapse and slavery? And, to connect this ethical system with its speculative side, do they not sacrifice and fuse matter, the inferior mother, to the weal of mind, of the world to come, of idealism, of the superior mother. Do they not term true Christians the spiritual? Now, if we wish to know exactly what is the spiritual of the apostle we have but to view the neoplatonism of Plotinus, Porphery and Proclus, the Gnostic system, and, above both, the corresponding distinctions of the Cabala. What do the first two establish on this score? They divide, as we know, men into three classes: the Hyloists, (the lowest rank) that is to say, the "carnal" of Paul, who were, according to the Gnostics, the Pagans; the Psychics, or Animists, and these were, according to the same, the Jews and the non-Gnostic Christians; last, the Pneumatics, the spiritual, and they were exclusively the Gnostics. Now we know what was the "Pneumatic" of the Gnostics: man, above law, usages, virtue, for whom all is good, all allowable, since his soul, in spite of any liberty the body may assume, can contract, henceforth, no stain, having an existence quite apart from the flesh that surrounds it. We do not quite assert that the spiritualism of Paul was of this kind; or that the contempt of the body and of its works was pushed by him to this point; but if he be not the type and model of the system he is, beyond question, its prime cause, and the Pneumatic of Gnosticism is, at the very least, a Paulite in excess.

We have tried to fix the meaning of Paul's "spiritual" through its reflection in the "Pneumatic" of the Gnostics. We may, with advantage, as a counter-test, compare both with their type, Cabalistic spiritualism. We may boldly affirm that the tripple distinction of the Gnostics, and the spiritual of Paul become quite intelligible only by linking them with the equivalent Cabalistical doctrine. The Cabalists say that man has a threefold nature; the breath, (nefesch) which has its root in the emanation, Malkhout (called also Nefesch); the Rouach or soul, that is connected with the logos, with the tiphereth that bears its name; lastly, the neschama, that has its source in the Bina, in the Holy Spirit, superior, like that which is in man. This is not all; the same classification of men by their predominant nature is made by the Cabalists as by the Gnostics. With those, as with these, the great mass of the faithful attain only to nefesch, to Malkhout, to the hylism of the Neoplatonists and the Gnostics, to the flesh of Paul; their portion is the letter, the bondage of the letter, as Paul says the literal sense (peschat) of the Law, and they bear, like Paul's charnels, the name slaves, for the malkout itself is called slave, or else they are given the title of eggs not yet laid (betsim). In this system, as in the other, we see those to whom the Rouach has been allotted, who have their root in the Tiphereth, the Logos; that is to say the Psychists, the learned, the scribes, the doctors of Paul and the Gospels, who reach the legal, philosophical and theoretic sense of the Law, and these are chickens scarcely hatched (efrochim). Lastly, we arrive at the elect souls, supported by Neschama, that is to say, the Pneumatics of the Gnostics and Plotinus, the spiritual of Paul, who have their source and seat in Bina, (the superior spirit) and to whom Cabalistic science (sod) unveils its mysteries; these are the free, for Bina is called Freedom (deror, cherout); and far from being slaves, eggs or chickens, they are the legitimate sons, children entitled to the patrimony. See how the rays, scattered everywhere through this work, converge to this luminous point! The spirituality to which Christians are invited is naturally linked to the Cabalistic model of the Holy Spirit, the Bina; both make the same use of the study and dissemination of the Cabalistic mysteries, that confer exactly the title and rights of the spiritual (mare demischmeta). By the same system, for raising themselves to the Bina, they acquired the title children, which, as opposed to that of slaves, the Cabala used long before Christainity. They acquired at the same time the "liberty" proper to this degree, one of its most characteristic designations, which the Cabala never used in its practical sense, (unless as regards a soul freed from the bonds of the body) but which Christianity first, and then the Gnostics so strangely abused. This last consideration leads us to speak of another cause still that makes the foundation of the Christian ethics weak and insecure, that opens the door to every abuse, and though producing noble acts through the ascendancy of the soul over the body, also gives the latter all the vices of an ignorant and ungoverned slavery. What we are about to say is, at first sight so improbable, that, had we not the proofs ready, we would not dare state it. One of the doctrines of Rabbinical Judaism, very natural, common enough and almost useless to teach, was one referring to certain obituary customs. Already had the Bible and the Hebrew prophets, highly prizing life, said in a thousand places that the law, virtue, the commands of God, cease at the door of the tomb; that the dead no more praise the Lord; that the sepulchre gives forth no song of thanks; passages which have been given in a materialistic sense, but which, for orthodox Judaism, is quite another thing as we see. Pharisaism formulizes them into one general saying, the terms of which are of special importance in order to penetrate the true meaning of many evangelical passages and especially from Paul. The Pharisees say: "With the dead is liberty (from the Psalms), when one is dead he is freed from precepts." It is almost incredible, but this is the sole pivot upon which the words and thoughts of Paul incessantly turn, in the thousand places where he speaks of the liberty of the dead. Here is the origin, the cause of one of the boldest fictions that ever emanated from the human mind—a fiction, the consequences of which were incalculable. Paul wants the faithful to identify themselves with Christ, to believe that they are his very embodiment, and that their flesh is condemned, crucified and dead with him. By this death which they share with him they acquire the most precious freedom, viz., the freedom from the law. Can the law rule a dead body? Can it extend its sceptre beyond the tomb? Can it exact from a dead man the practice of its rites and ceremonies?

And, furthermore, to touch on another point, suggested by the words of Paul himself, what is the Cabalistic doctrine regarding original sin, spiritual new-birth? Is it not the law or death which it names as the sole means of making the ticcoun or reparation for the first sin? Well, of these two means, says Paul, we have chosen the last. We are dead—dead, indeed, with Jesus; we are in him and he is in us; he has died for all; he has crucified in himself our flesh of sin; by dying on the cross he has fulfilled for us the whole Law. Behold us, then,- in full life, come into the precious liberty of pure souls, and no one can henceforth charge the dead with neglect of the Law. Have we transcended the thoughts and expressions of Paul himself? Then let us cite his words: "Our flesh is considered as dead if Christ is in us." "He who is dead is freed from sin." Rom. vi, 7. But what is much more important: "Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them who know the Law)—that is, to those who were not ignorant of the Pharisaical ideas as to the duration of its observance—know ye not that the Law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?" And having exemplified his position by saying that a woman is free to marry after her husband's death, he continues, (v. 4): "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the Law, by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, to him who is raised from the dead. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the Law, did work in our members. But now we are delivered from the Law, being dead (we follow in this place the true translation of Diodata) to that wherein we were held." Much more; the sin of Adam, the cause of the Law with the Cabalists and Paul, is expiated by the death of Jesus; he dies, is buried, and his disciples are likewise with him. Our flesh has been condemned to suffer for all in Jesus. There is then no more condemnation for those who are in Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit. For what was impossible to the Law (to give perfect liberty in atoning for even original sin) in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us. (Rom. viii, 1-4)

We shall not multiply citations. A simple reading of Paul's writings will show their spirit much better than detached fragments. What they clearly testify is the strange abuse that is made of a simple fiction, and the consequence drawn from it with incredible coolness, viz.: the abolition of the Law. But in this tomb of the Law—in this inaction of the dead, shall not morality itself be annihilated? Have we not to fear that this defunct will free himself from virtue, from moral obligations, as well as from ceremonial injunctions? And is there, moreover, no danger that those members, said to be dead, should refuse to perform the most holy duties, or that the spirit, having attained its natural freedom, should think itself no longer obliged to lay any restraint on the flesh which surrounds it, but which is already dead and crucified in Jesus?

But the fiction continues: These faithful, dead and buried with Jesus, rise with him; our flesh, too, is considered as risen with Jesus. We are dead to the Law that we may belong to another, viz., to him who is risen from the dead; and Jesus, our brother, is the first born from the dead. No doubt possible. For Jesus, and, after him, for his disciples, the era of the resurrection, the renewing of nature, the resurrection of bodies was about to commence; and for the successors of Jesus, it had already come in his own person, in his body gone living from the tomb and become the first born of the dead. But what gives this fiction quite an exceptional importance is the sense it took from its contact with the doctrines of the day. What did the Pharisees understand by the resurrection? Beyond doubt it took in not only human bodies called to a new life, furnished with superior organs and powers, but also the whole of nature in a general renovation, in a new birth that was to change the aspect of nature; and it would be, doubtless, both a curious and instructive study to compare this doctrine with its ancient or modern imitations. The Pharisaic school, in accord on this point, differed as to the time of the general resurrection, and as to its connexion with the Messianic era. One party made these two eras absolutely contemporaneous, and not only was the Messiah to usher Israel into an era of prosperity, safety and liberty, but also to give the signal for the renovation and rebirth of nature, of which the most solemn and striking event would naturally be the resurrection of the dead. The other party viewed things in quite a different light. Placing the resurrectional era at the remotest possible period, they regarded the coming of the Messiah only as a simple social change, wherein the laws of nature would remain the same, and things go on as usual; or, to sum the whole with an adage, Nothing be changed except slavery to liberty. We need not say to which of these schools Christianity belonged. For it no interval, no possible distinction between the Messianical and the resurrectional era; and though the contrary doctrine conclusively prevailed in Judaism, the sychronism of the two eras alone found favor with Christianity.

From this first difference arose another. Although the Pharisees protracted as much as possible the reign of the Law, yet they made it cease at the threshold of the resurrection. As the material world was to undergo a complete change, so a new law, springing from new social conditions, was to supplant the old religion. On that new earth, in the midst of new beings and new conditions, the thought of God, the law of God, self-sufficing and naturally self-conserving, would change in its applications as it changes even here below, according to circumstances, to bodies, to relations, as it is applied to world, sun or star. Here is the origin and true sense of this mass of sentences, propositions, similitudes, in which the idea of a new law, a new covenant, and annulled prohibitions shines through images and allegories that have been so often used pervertedly against Jewish orthodoxy, and that Christian polemics has incessantly thrown in the face of the rabbis. These were the very ideas that prevailed among the Judao-Christians at the abolition of the Law, just as in general all that subsequently became a weapon in the hands of established Christianity, had been once an originating power, a cause in primitive Christianity. Nothing easier, nothing more inevitable after what we have said, than the abolition of the Law. The era of the Messiah being identified completely in the minds of the primitive Christians with that of the resurrection (this having already commenced with the resurrection of Jesus, the first-born of the dead), and the whole church, deeming the destruction and renovation of the world imminent, the first conclusion was that the law of Moses was about to be superseded by another law more in unison with the semi-spiritual state of the new society. In vain was this expectation disappointed from day to day; in vain did the resurrection proper keep ever retreating towards the future, and in vain were people already, as we learn from the Epistles, devoured by impatience. Never mind; its shade, its image, a resurrection quite fictitious can always be substituted for the real resurrection; it can be taught, that the faithful, dead with Jesus, are raised with him; that the reign of the resurrection, of the new birth commenced with the resurrection of Jesus, and thus the abolition of the Law can always progress.

We need not dwell at length on the peril in which ethics, religion and practical morality were placed by such a system. This equivocal position created by Christianity in the actual order of things; this society, which is no longer the human society that the actual laws would have, nor yet the society of the resurrection, such as it will be one day; this systematized contradiction between existence as it should be and existence as it was, between the resurrection as a hypothesis and life as a thesis; this fiction of daily and hourly recurrence—was it calculated to strengthen sceptical minds, wavering wills, or those of selfish passions, in the worship and love of the good? All relations about to cease, all ties to be broken, society to disappear, and this ephemeral life to have, perhaps, no morrow; all affections, wants, tears, rights, duties, the living, throbbing reality of life sacrificed to an abstraction, to a chimera, to a rabbinical subtlety of Saul's—is such a system-calculated to win people inevitably to the performance of duty, to a respect for all rights, to a veneration for the affections? But these loves, rights, duties are nothing now in the rights acquired by the resurrection, nothing but an empty name, an appearance that shall soon dissolve to smoke. So that here, as elsewhere, morality shares the fate of the law; and, if new legal relations are about to be established in the new society—for, according to Jesus himself, in the new world are to be no more marriages—new moral relations must be thenceforth the guide of our conduct. But the abolition of the law, the death and resurrection of Jesus—the causes, as we have just seen, of doubt and weakness in the Christian ethics—themselves contain what compromises, no less-seriously, morality. This is the Redemption. Now, the idea of a redemption lessens in many ways at once the value, beauty and grandeur of morality. What is the Redemption, and what does it suppose? It supposes a state of innocence anterior to sin, and wherein the redemption by the blood of the lamb can replace man; it supposes sin itself, and the expiatory sacrifice of the God-Messiah. Let us see the share, good or bad, that these three elements have in the formation of the Christian ethics. Is this restoration to a state-of innocence, to Adam's state before sin, unattended by danger? Judaism also proposed to its adherents a means of regaining the privileges lost by the first transgression. It also had an Incarnate Word to work this miracle; but this word was the thought of God embodied in the Law, maintaining itself from age to age, reinstating man, his actions and his life, and through him the whole creation. But the last act of this great drama, the return to Adam's condition, to paradise, took place at the era of the resurrection, when men, improved by the regenerating works of the Law, by the trials of life, by the slow and progressive initiation of actual existence, should assume bodies like Adam's before his sin. Until then the regeneration is not complete, sin has not abandoned his prey; the chain by which it holds us falls off indeed, link by link, but the last link is broken only by the tomb. Must Christianity wait so long? No; doubtless, for to it the door of the resurrection lies already open; this state we have reached; in this we live, if it be true that the resurrection of Jesus and of the just at the time of his death, are the first fruits of the general resurrection, and he the first born of the dead. Innocent as Adam, ignorant as he, because the fatal fruit is considered as never having been eaten, subjected not to the real laws that rule the present physical world, but to those of the sinless world, to those that shall rule it after the resurrection, to fictitious laws, to an imaginary world, to this resurrection that ought to be inaugurated by Jesus, how should we be less free, less capable of sin and evil than Adam himself, had he never tasted the forbidden fruit?

We understand very well the difficulty that a modern will have in admitting these conclusions. We admit that the religious instinct, the pure morals, the sacred traditions which Christianity drew from the Synagogue, fought effectually against the power of logic, against the enticement to the licentiousness which these doctrines authorized. But radical vice is no less visible in the principles; and their fruits—bitter enough—soon showed themselves in those Adamites of the first and twelfth centuries, in the Turlupines of the fourteenth, in the Picards of the fifteenth century;—all of whom took their starting-point from the principles which we denounce.

Let us now see the effects of original sin (as understood by Christianity), especially in its relations to the Law. We can scarce credit our senses, as we see the great difficulties of his position, the contest with orthodox Judaism, the hatred and sworn destruction to the law of Moses, drive Paul to those straits in which morality, that plank of the wreck he wished to save, must be lost. Paul has a theory which Georgias, Hobbes, or the deceased Proudhon, the inventor of anarchy, would not have disowned, and which, once admitted, would be the coup de grace to all justice, all law, all morality, all society—namely, that not only is the Law a result of the first sin, but that it constitutes and is the cause of our sins—that without the Law there is no sin, and that consequently you have but to suppress the Law to make sin disappear. Nothing can be more-exact than the statement: It is through the Law that we know sin.[4] The Law worketh wrath; for where there is no Law there is no transgression.[5] By one man sin entered into the world (speaking to those who wished to limit the sense of the word sin to transgressions against the Mosaic Law); for, until the Law, sin was in the word; but sin is not imputed where there is no law.[6] And further on: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners (probably in allsorts of sin) so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (probably, also, in all sorts of righteousness, moral and Mosaic). Moreover , the Law entered, that offense might abound.[7] This is enough, but it is not all: When we were in the flesh (we are at present in spiritual life, under the law of the spirit and not of the letter), the motions of sins, which were by the Law (meaning sinful affections) did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. "But now we are delivered from the Law, being dead to that wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter."[8] Can we still doubt that the moral laws as well as the ceremonial were included in these singular theories? Let us say so if we can? The Law is not given for the just, but for sinners, and for those who cannot be classified, for people without religion, 1st and 2d commandment; for the profane, 3d commandment; for murderers of parents, 5th commandment; for homicides, 6th commandment; for fornicators, 7th commandment; for men-stealers, 8th commandment, (as understood by the Pharisees, showing what studies and influences inspired the apostle); for liars, 9th commandment; and for perjurers, 10th commandment. But this is nothing to what follows: "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? God forbid. Nay, Nay, I had not known Sin but by the Law; for I had not known lust, except the Law had said: 'Thou shalt not covet.' But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the Law sin was dead. For I was once alive without the Law, but when the commandment came sin revived, and I died."[9] Do we wish language still more exact and serious? "The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the Law."[10] Much more; the ministration of the Law is a ministration of condemnation.[11] And as the corollary to all these axioms: "There is therefore no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ-Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit." See what is asserted. The only sign by which we recognize sin is by the prohibition, and the sole distinctive characteristic of evil is its condemnation. It is the Law that originates at its pleasure good or evil, and we have but to change, to abolish the Law that all sin may likewise disappear.

Nevertheless, certain as we are that such is the meaning of Paul's language, and that these principles lead directly to the subversion of the simplest principles of right and wrong, we must not withhold our conviction that Paul's brain and heart revolted against the possible deductions; and one of the best proofs of our correctness is to see Paul himself guarding against the possible application of his teachings, so apt to let loose upon the world the most dreadful vices and abuses. "What, then?" he cries, "shall we sin because we are not under the Law, but under grace?"[12] This was the time to escape at once, or never, from this fatal consequence, by loudly proclaiming that distinction which some theologians have infelicitously established in the Law itself, between the ceremonial laws which Paul wished to abolish, and the moral laws which he wished to preserve.

Why then did he, too, not use it? Why, if he admitted it, did he not seize upon this distinction so simple, natural and convenient to free himself from the difficulty? Paul, however, does not seem even to dream of this. He prefers to entangle himself in a labyrinth of—we shall not say sophisms—but dialectical subtleties and syllogisms, quite Talmudical, difficult to follow, of which the most probable conclusion, arrived at with slow, uncertain and embarrassed steps, is this: That the new state being a servitude to Justice or to God, instead of the old one which was a servitude to sin, the deliverance from the latter does not dispense us from paying due homage to the former, that is, from conforming to the divine will, by which alone we are freed from the yoke of the Law. Here is a rather obscure word-battle; but it is not our fault, nor even Paul's; it is, on the contrary, to his credit, for by it alone can he escape the frightful consequences which his principles, rigorously used, could not fail to bear.

In short, if the innocence and sin which the redemption supposes are little favorable to Christian ethics, shall the redemption itself be more so,—the redemption or the sacrifice of a God-man, this remedy applied to the old sore of humanity?

Judaism, too, as we have said, recognizes a Word (Tipheret, Logos); it styles it, additionally, the Law, Torah; it believes in its incarnation in the Malkhout, the Torah schebealpe, tradition; and the office of this Word or Torah, descended to us, the guide of our thoughts and actions, is to efface gradually the marks of the old slavery, to atone for the sin of the first man. But how does the redemption work in Judaism? By making of man himself; of his conscience; soul, and will, the first, chief, and—I had almost said—the only means of his renovation, in summoning him to open his mind and heart to the teachings, exhortations, light and warmth emanating from the divine word, so that the whole inner man be transformed, his strength aroused, his powers expanded, and he himself alone brought to work, under the eye and hand of God, for his own salvation. In short, the redemption of Judaism is altogether from within, because its Word is so too, because its dogma, ethics and worship have no reality or sphere here below, except so far as man seizes, assimilates and realizes in himself the perfections they contain. Without this assimilation of the Divine Word, this all-penetrating bread, this perpetual supper where the incarnate Word for ever supplies the table of Judaism, what would be this Word itself? Nothing but a guest, a divine one indeed, but one which thro' lack of entertainment could not bring to our spiritual hearths those treasures of blessing with which it is laden. One cannot, then, but perceive how eminently favorable are Jewish doctrine, its incarnate Word and Redemption to man's dignity which they raise, to his moral energy which they arouse, to his interior transformation—alone reliable, because it is his own work—to his true justification, the fruit of a slow, inward labor, that leaves no dark corner of the mind or conscience unpenetrated by the divine light! Is it thus with Christianity? Its Word, its Redemption, its action upon the human soul, are, undeniably, all exterior, all objective; they operate outside of man, without his taking any part whatever, except an act of faith in the virtue and efficacy of Jesus' sacrifice, according to some, or at most (according to others) an act of general faith in Jesus, his mission, commands, and promises. The merits that justify, that procure pardon, are ever those of another, namely, of Jesus. Never does man himself conquer them by the sweat of his brow; they are imputed to him. Ever will remain this vast difference between Christianity and Judaism, viz: that the Redemption of the latter is altogether interior; that its Passion, Condemnation, Death, Garden of Olives, Praetor and Golgotha, are internal facts, the sphere of all being the mind and heart of man, where the Word is ceaselessly sacrificed for the benefit of humanity, upon the altar that man erects.

The foundations, then, as we see, upon which Christianity rests, far from having that solidity which the beauty of the structure seems to promise, are, on the contrary, fraught with dangers, that a rigid logic could not fail to show

Notes[edit]

  1. Rom. iv. 1, 2, 3, 4.
  2. Rom vi. 5.
  3. Rom. iv. 3-4.
  4. Rom. iii. 20.
  5. iv. 15.
  6. v. 12-18
  7. v. 19 20.
  8. vii. 5-6.
  9. Rom. vii. 7-9.
  10. I Cor. xv. 56.
  11. II Cor. iii. 9.
  12. Rom. Vi. 15.