In recalling it at this day there stand out from its later phases two efforts at compromise especially instructive, as showing the embarrassment of militant theology in the nineteenth century.
The first of these was made by John Henry Newman in the days when he was hovering between the Anglican and Roman Churches. In one of his sermons before the University of Oxford he spoke as follows:
"Scripture says that the sun moves and the earth is stationary, and science that the earth moves and the sun is comparatively at rest. How can we determine which of these opposite statements is the very truth till we know what motion is? If our idea of motion is but an accidental result of our present senses, neither proposition is true and both are true: neither true philosophically; both true for certain practical purposes in the system in which they are respectively found."
In all anti-theological literature there is no utterance more hopelessly skeptical. And for what were the youth of Oxford led into such bottomless depths of disbelief as to any real existence of truth or any real foundation for it? Simply to save an outworn system of interpretation into which the gifted preacher happened to be born.
The other utterance was suggested by De Bonald and developed in the Dublin Review, as is understood, by one of Newman's associates. This argument was nothing less than an attempt to retreat under the charge of deception against the Almighty himself. It is as follows: "But it may well be doubted whether the Church did retard the progress of scientific truth. What retarded it was the circumstance that God has thought fit to express many texts of Scripture in words which have every appearance of denying the earth's motion. But it is God who did this, not the Church; and, moreover, since he saw fit so to act as to retard the progress of scientific truth, it would be little to her discredit, even if it were true, that she had followed his example."
This argument, like Mr. Gosse's famous attempt to reconcile geology to Genesis by supposing that for some inscrutable purpose God deliberately deceived the thinking world by giving to the earth all the appearances of development through long periods of time, while really creating it in six days, each of an evening and a morning seems only to have awakened the amazed pity of thinking men. This, like the argument of Newman, was the last desperate effort of Anglican and Roman divines to save something from the wreckage of theology.
- For the quotation from Newman, see his Sermons on the Theory of Religious Belief, sermon xiv, cited by Bishop Goodwin in Contemporary Review for January, 1892. For the attempt to take the blame off the shoulders of both Pope and cardinals, and place it upon the Almighty, see the article above cited, in the Dublin Review, September, 1865, p. 419,