Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/37

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37
RATIONALISM IN THEOLOGY.

explicit on the point.[1] In "Ecce Homo" Sir J. Seeley did not openly call into question the divinity of Christ, but the eagerness with which he emphasizes the natural beauty and elevation of his character is very suggestive.

Another doctrine which had been particularly prominent since the Reformation, and which has now been rejected by the majority of thoughtful believers, is the supposed meritoriousness of faith. "Only believe and you shall be saved" was not merely an ironical summary of Protestant doctrine; it was a very widely-accepted principle. Now, however, it has yielded to the strong infusion of ethical consideration which characterizes modern religious thought. The value of a man's life is measured almost entirely by his works. The confusion which has long enveloped the meaning of faith has been largely removed, and it is very commonly regarded, not as an arbitrary preternatural gift of mysterious nature, nor as a vague sentiment overriding the workings of reason, but as an intellectual assent like any other, only to be accorded on the perception of satisfactory evidence. The acceptance of definite creeds and formularies is understood to be a matter of secondary importance; the true test of communion with the Church of Christ is righteousness of life. And there has been a profound change, also, in the conception of the works which prove genuine moral worth. The older ascetical idea has fallen into disrepute. The anger of God has disappeared from the circle of religious thought; "the religion of Christ," says Momerie, in this connection, "has no angry Deity requiring to be bribed." Love is now, in the modern Johannine Church, his most prominent attribute; hence it must be thought that he surrounded human life with pleasures, not for purposes of mortification, but for the enjoyment of his children. Works that yield fruit of human happiness or of evil undone are the only acceptable gifts; the selfish, timorous, and useless asceticism of former days is relegated to the gallery of religious pathology. Kingsley ridicules it in his brilliant novels; Tennyson indicates its futility in impressive verse; Jowett thinks sacrifice to the Infinite a barbaric notion.

  1. Momerie says, in "Defects of Christianity," that the character of Christ is "so different from those of ordinary men as to deserve and demand that we should call it, by way of contradistinction, divine."