Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/18

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

18

MODERN RATIONALISM.

duce German literature to his countrymen; he and De Quincey were the first English interpreters of German thought. The prevailing heresy at home at that period was Benthamism, and to this Coleridge opposed the idealized and somewhat mystic form of Christianity which he had now conceived. The High Church form of Anglicanism had been steadily declining since the seventeenth century; and the Low Church, less mindful of rites and formulae, had gained considerable ground. Methodism, too, had earnestly propagated the habit of attaching more importance to morals than to speculations and the technicalities of theology. Hence, perhaps, Coleridge found a not unwilling soil and less hostility; yet his teaching was certainly conspicuously novel. His freedom of thought is seen particularly in his treatment of sin, especially original sin. He does not admit that it is guilt in the orthodox sense, hence he is led to more lenient thoughts of its punishment. Adam, he says, merely incurs God's displeasure by his act, and is stripped of his supernatural gifts; the sin which his descendants inherit is nothing more grievous—they are left to their natural condition. Redemption, therefore, does not mean salvation from the curse of a broken law, and Christ cannot be said to have paid a debt for man, because no positive debt had been incurred. Still, he removed God's displeasure and reconciled humanity to him. In later life Coleridge is said to have been a sincere Trinitarian, but he had planted the seeds of many heresies in his new scheme.

It was through Julius Hare principally that the new doctrine was propagated. Hare was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and he soon formed a powerful school of adherents to the new doctrine, of which the most conspicuous members were John Sterling, F. D. Maurice, and Trench. Each, as usually happens, evolved some personal notions, but the general principles on sin and the atonement remain unchanged. Hare takes a new view of sacrifice; says that Christ did not execute his important mission so much by his death as by his entire life—his example. Sin is a matter rather of regret than of responsibility. Miracles have been wrongly considered a necessary support of Christianity; they are rather a decoration of its structure, which stands by its moral worth. Scripture contains many verbal inaccuracies. Faith is not an active force, and, per se, a