Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/28

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28

MODERN RATIONALISM.

who, in any existing system, loves truth and seeks charity is, indeed, difficult at the best . . . To serve a great institution, and by serving it to endeavour to promote within it a vitality which shall secure it as the shelter for such as will have to continue the same struggle after they are gone, is an object for which much may be, and ought to be, endured, which otherwise would be intolerable." He conceived the national church to be, not a rigid and unchanging institution, but a body whose function it was to promulgate the truths which approve themselves in each successive generation, and as the most efficient instrument for supplying the moral needs of the community. And that was the attitude of all the rationalizing divines. They looked to the ethical and philanthropic value of Christianity, and the theistic basis of its altruistic spirit, as they conceived it; to the fate of its dogmas and formulae they were comparatively indifferent. They could thus assimilate freely the results of destructive criticism; it might reveal other religious systems of equal ethical value, but it could never impair the inherent value of Christianity. And the Church of England was useful as a barrier to Roman and ritualistic tyranny. How that frame of mind is related to the modern ethical movement will appear in chapter v.

During the next thirty years the growth of the movement is constant and devoid of dramatic interest. England has become accustomed to liberal concessions on the part of its ministers. At the present day they are both frequent and generous, yet they excite little or no official protest, and little excitement outside the pages of third-rate periodicals. The supremacy of conscience and the freedom of individual speculation, contained in germ in the fundamental principle of the Reformation, is now virtually accepted. Ecclesiastical authority is practically limited to administrative functions. From the recognition that the Church had no supernatural commission in teaching men quickly came to recognise that the time-honoured ecclesiastical formularies were equally devoid of supernatural sanction, and are at length learning to extend the same view to the Judaic literature on which they were founded. The magisterial power of prelates has grown more attenuated with each succeeding decade: the Lincoln case was another illustration of its fictitious ascendancy. Clergymen speculate