Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/44

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Chapter II.


Simultaneously with the decay of formulas and dogmata, which has been described in the preceding chapter, there has been in progress during the century a remarkable and profound change in the conception of that literature from which they are believed to have issued. The very term "Biblical criticism" is, of itself, suggestive of an important change of attitude on the part of the Christian mind. It is now one of the most familiar phrases on the lips of the modern educated world, orthodox and heterodox; yet it implies an entirely new mode of conceiving the sacred literature of Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, there is no province of thought in which the active Rationalistic spirit of this century has effected a stranger and more significant revolution than in its criticism of the Bible. The mists of ages of superstitious reverence have been marvellously dissipated. The sacred character of the book has gradually faded until—with regard to the Old Testament at least—it has entirely lost any special and distinctive features raising it to a position of authority among the sacred books of other religions; its historical value has been almost entirely destroyed, and its ethical character has been most gravely impeached. The Old Testament, in particular, has been almost rejected by the modern theologian, and, strange to say, has acquired an interest and value in the eyes of his Rationalistic adversary. In the eyes of all educated men it has now only a similar value—in whatever degree that may be estimated—to that of all other sacred books—an ethical value. The glamour of inspiration, in the specific sense understood by all previous Christianity, has departed from it for ever. It has no different inspiration than that of the Vedas, or the Zend Avesta, or the Iliad, or the Æneid, or "Paradise Lost."