Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/6

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



most evanescent character. Yet the principle which actuated the departure from orthodoxy was the same in both cases: it was discovered to have a deeper application by the later generation. Both schools, and indeed all systems to which the name is applied, accepted as their primary and fundamental principle that reason is the supreme criterion of all truth, whether in secular or religious, natural or supernatural, spheres. Any thesis, on whatever authority it may be asserted, which violates the dictates of reason must be rejected. On that test were rejected, first the mysterious rites and dogmas of Christianity, then its sacred literature, and, finally, even the positions of natural theology. From Collins and Shaftesbury to Mill and Huxley the history of Rationalism is but a consistent and progressive application of that principle.

Rationalism, therefore, is rather a "cast of thought" and "bias of reasoning," as Mr. Lecky says, than a stereotyped system, although he would seem to define it inadequately in saying that "its central conception is the elevation of conscience into a position of supreme authority as the religious organ, a verifying faculty discriminating between truth and error;" for speculative reason has been as operative as practical reason in the destructive progress of Rationalism. From all time there have been religious statements current among all nations which purported to come from a source other than the natural activity of the human mind, from a higher authority, and before which the vast majority of mankind have bent in feeble and unquestioning submission. Sooner or later, however, a departure from that attitude is inevitable. Reason claims its prerogative as the ultimate test of all truth, applies its first principles and the knowledge it has already acquired to all ethical and religious traditions, and comes to reject a greater or less section, or even the whole, of its inherited profession.

Unless, however, this activity of reason yields conspicuous