Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/183

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


A PROFESSOR of divinity who has been thought at times to be by no means insensible to a reputation for orthodoxy, preaching in the University of Oxford a few days ago, said: "The field of speculative theology may be regarded as almost exhausted; we must be content henceforward to be Christian agnostics." It is probable that these words, had they been uttered in the same place twenty-five years ago, would have excited an alarm comparable to that which was raised by Bishop Colenso or the "Essays and Reviews." In the present case they appear to have been accepted without a murmur; so great is the change which has come over the conditions of theological thought in England in a quarter of a century. It will be the object of the present paper to make clear what are the new conditions of which theology has to take note, to point out what they involve either certainly or by probable inference, and to show what we may expect theology to be under these new conditions.

It is very necessary that such an attempt should be made, so that illusions should cease, and also unnecessary alarms; and that theologians should strike boldly into the new paths, not reverting to unfruitful methods which separate theology from other parts of human knowledge. For it is to be observed that such utterances as that just quoted are met with again and again, even when least expected, in theological literature, but that this has by no means prevented the prevalence of dogmatism. St. Augustine wrote, in his treatise on "Christian Doctrine":

God is unspeakable; yet what we say of him would not be spoken at all if it were unspeakable. Even when we say God is unspeakable, we hardly speak rightly; for even in saying this we make an assertion. By pronouncing the word Deus, we do not make him known as he is. Only when that sound strikes the ears of men who know Latin, it moves in them the thought of a certain most excellent and immortal nature.

Yet this did not hinder him from repeating the language in which he had suddenly checked himself, and his methods have so enchained the study of theology that we are only now beginning to free ourselves from them. The melancholy experience of the sixteenth century which turned the Reformation from a great act of emancipation into a renewed scholasticism must not be repeated in our day.

The conditions which it is necessary to notice may be taken under four heads: 1. Those imposed by the advance of science, and 2. Of criticism; 3. Those made by the altered state of church-life; 4. Those caused by social and democratic progress.

1. Under the head of Science we may notice as specially bearing