Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/5

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INTRODUCTION.




Rationalism is a term of such diverse connotations in the minds of different writers that, like the term "Socialism," it is not susceptible of any brief definition which should be free from ambiguity. The intellectual method, or attitude, or spirit which is suggested by it has inspired such heterogeneous systems in the controversial struggle of the last few centuries that it can no longer be said to describe any actual system with clearness. It is applied equally to Agnosticism, the extreme revolutionary form of heterodoxy, and to a certain theological school that professes to remain within the precincts of the orthodox temple; and it is frequently taken to be synonymous with a destructive system of Biblical criticism. Rationalism, in the earlier part of the last century, was a school of anti-Christian Deists in England and France; towards the close of the century, and in the earlier part of the present century, it was a system of Biblical criticism, usually of a hostile character; modern Rationalism is a system which rejects both natural and supernatural theology, and is antagonistic to the orthodox Churches on every point, although the term is still often used in its earlier senses.

However, it is easy to trace through all these systems, divergent and even contradictory as they would have been if they had co-existed, the operation of one and the same spirit. The Deist rejected supernatural religion, but emphatically retained belief in a personal God; whereas the modern Rationalist declines all profession of a Theistic nature—or, at the most, retains only a profession of the