Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/7

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7
INTRODUCTION.

destructive results, it does not attract the title of Rationalism. Thus, even the Church of Rome, most conservative of orthodox sects, recognises that reason is a tribunal from which there is no appeal (it is one of the first propositions of dogmatic theology); yet the title of "Rationalistic" was not applied until the school of Günther and Hermes (which was promptly suppressed) began to alter its stereotyped formulae. So, also, in the Church of England (and Germany) only that school is called Rationalistic which departs in a marked degree, in dogma or Biblical criticism, from the formulae which have been sanctioned by the religious acceptance of many centuries, and which constitute what may safely be called orthodoxy. The Rationalistic spirit is, therefore, a critical action of reason on authoritative religious tradition, which leads to its partial or entire rejection, either from defect of satisfactory evidence to recommend it, or because it conflicts with known facts or evident moral or speculative principles—the negative and positive criterion of the Catholic theologian.

The importance of that spirit in the modern world of thought cannot be exaggerated. Mr. Lecky states that it "seems absolutely to over-ride our age." Yet it must not be supposed to be an exclusively modern phenomenon; in every civilized nation there are manifestations of it from the earliest dawn of scientific thought. Reason has ever protested, in its nobler embodiments, against the excessive tyranny of authority and the excessive credulity of the majority. At least, in such nations as had a body of cultured laymen, distinct from the sacerdotal body, it led to the formation of powerful antagonistic systems. In Greece, which enjoyed that prerogative to an extent which has found a parallel only in the modern civilized world, speculation had the utmost freedom, and was indulged without a glance at the religious traditions of the race. From Thales to Carneades a marvellous diversity of systems crossed the intellectual arena, the majority of them