Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/March 1879/Atheism and the Church

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ATHEISM AND THE CHURCH.
By Rev. G. H. CURTEIS.

OMNIA EXEUNT IN—THEOLOGIAM.[1] No branch of science appears to consider itself complete, nowadays, until it has issued at last into the vexed ocean of theology. Thus, Biology writes "Lay Sermons" in Professor Huxley; Physics acknowledges itself almost Christian in Professor Tyndall; Anthropology claims to be religious in Mr. Darwin; and Logic, in Mr. Spencer, confesses that "a religious system is a normal and essential factor in every evolving society."[2] It is only the second-rate men of science who loudly vaunt their ability to do without religion altogether, and proclaim their fixed and unchangeable resolve for its entire suppression. As well resolve to suppress the Gulf Stream or the eccentricity of the earth's orbit! If the horizon of man's thought is bounded on all sides by mystery, it is in simple obedience to the law of his nature that he gives some shape to that mystery. It were mental cowardice to shrink from facing it; it were positive imbecility to declare that the coast-line between known and unknown had no shape at all. Granted that the line be a slowly fluctuating one, and that conquests here and losses there reveal themselves in course of time, and one day become "striking" to the commonest observer, does that fact acquit of folly the Agnostic statement that, now and here, there is no thinkable line at all, no features to be described, nothing to sketch, no appreciable curves and headlands, no conception possible which shall integrate (for practical utility) that great Beyond whose boundaries, on the hither side at least, are known to us? Men who can only attend to one thing at a time, and whose "one thing" is the field of a microscope or "the anatomy of the lower part of the hindmost bone of the skull of a carp,"[3] may perhaps escape the common lot of manhood by ceasing to be "men," in any ordinary sense of the word. But, for people who live in the open air and sunshine of common life, there is the same necessity for a religion as there is for that mental map of our whereabouts that we all carry with us in our brains. Let any one recall his sensations when he has at any time been overtaken in a fog or a snow-storm, and when all his bearings have been blotted out, then he will readily understand the need which all men feel for a theology of some kind, and he will appreciate what the old-school divines meant when they said that "Theology was the queen and mistress of the sciences," harmonizing and gathering up into architectonic unity all the multifarious threads that the subordinate sciences had spun.

I. One is driven, nowadays, to repeat both in public and private these very obvious reflections, owing to the extraordinary persistence with which certain philosophers think fit to inform us that we are all making a great mistake; that we can do very well without a religion; and that, though it is true "man can not live by bread alone," but must have ideas, yet the creed by which he may very well make shift to live is this—"Something is."[4] In point of brevity there is here little to desire. The Apostles' Creed is prolix by comparison, and although we might fairly take exception to "some-thing," as embodying two very concrete acts of the imagination, and therefore capable of further logical "purification," it were ungenerous to press the objection too far. This creed is purer than that of Strauss: "We believe in no God, but only in a self-poised and, amid eternal changes, constant universum."[5] It is wider than that of Hartmann: "God is a personification of force."[6] It is simpler than that of Matthew Arnold: God is "a power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness."[7] It is more intelligible than that of J. S. Mill: "A Being of great but limited power, how or by what limited we can not even conjecture"—a notion found also in Lucretius and in Seneca.[8] It is more theological than that of Professor Huxley: "The order of nature is ascertainable by our faculties, and our volition counts for something in the course of events."[9] It is similar to that of the ancient Brahmans: "That which can not be seen by the eye, but by which the eye sees, that is Brahma; if thou thinkest thou canst know it, then thou knowest it very little; it is reached only by him who says, 'It is! it is!' "[10] And considering that this formula is very nearly what is said also by the Fathers of the Church, what better formula concordæ[11] between science and theism could we require? For instance, Clemens Alexandrinus (a. d. 200) echoes St. Paul's "Know Him, sayest thou! rather art known of him," with the confession, "We know not what he is, but only what he is not"; Cyril of Jerusalem (a. d. 350) says, "To know God is beyond man's powers"; St. Augustine (a. d. 400), "Rare is the mind that in speaking of God knows what it means"; John of Damascus (a. d. 800), "What is the substance of God or how he exists in all things, we are Agnostics, and can not say a word"; and in the middle ages, Duns Scotus (a. d. 1300): "Is God accessible to our reason? I hold that he is not."[12]

It seems, then, there is a consensus among all competent persons, who have ever thought deeply on the subject, that the real nature of that Power which underlies all existing things is absolutely unknown to man. And it is allowable, therefore, in the last resort, to fall back upon Spinoza's word "sub-stance"; and to accept—if charity so require—as the common basis for theological reunion, the Agnostic formula, "Something Is."

But then, unless some means be found for instantly paralyzing the restless energy of human inquiry, the next question is inevitable: What is that Something? What are its qualities, its attributes? How are we to conceive of it? Given (in Aristotelian phrase) its ούσια,[13] what is its ποιότης,[14] its ποσότης,[15] and the rest, which go to make up its idea? "Existence" is, after all, only one of our three necessary forms of thought: "Space" and "Time" are also necessary to our thinking. And it is in vain for pure logicians to put on papal airs, to forbid the question, to cry Non possumus,[16] and to stifle all free thinking. It is useless to say: "We have already, with razors of the utmost fineness, split and resplit every emergent phenomenon; we have, by assiduous devotion to the one single and undisturbed function of analysis, examined every possible conception that man can form, and have discovered everywhere compound notions, ideas that are 'impure' and capable of further logical fissures: salvation is only possible by the confession that 'Something Is'; there rest and be thankful!" It is all of no avail. Naturam expellas furca[17]—she is sure to return in armed revolt, and to demand, Who told thee that thou wast thus nakedly equipped? Reason is one thing; but imagination is also another. If analysis is a power of the human mind, so also is synthesis. If you can not think at all without using the one, neither can you without employing the other. Take, for instance, a process of the "purest" mathematics—"twice six is twelve"; you were taught that probably with an abacus, and the ghost of the abacus still lingers in your brain. "The square of the hypotenuse": you saw that once in a figured Euclid, and you learned thereby to form any number of similar mental figures for yourself. No: you may call the methods by which mankind think "impure," or attach to them any other derogatory epithet you please; but mankind will deride you for your pains, and will reply: "The philosopher who will only breathe pure oxygen will die; he that walks on one leg, and declines to use the other, will cut but a sorry figure in society; he that uses only one eye will never get a stereoscopic view of anything. Use, man, the compound instrument of knowledge your nature has provided for you, and you will both see and live." Why, even so determined a logician as "Physicus" is obliged sometimes to admit that "this symbolic method of reasoning is, from the nature of the case, the only method of scientific reasoning which is available."[18] And Professor Tyndall, in the November number of another Review, after complaining that "it is against the mythologic scenery of religion that Science enters her protest," finds himself also obliged to mythologize; for he adds (seven pages further on): "How are we to figure this molecular motion? Suppose the leaves to be shaken from a birch-tree, . . . and, to fix the idea, suppose each leaf," etc. And so Professor Cooke writes:

I can not agree with those who regard the wave-theory of light as an established principle of science. . . . There is something concerned in the phenomena of light which has definite dimensions. We represent these dimensions to our imagination as wave-lengths, and we shall find it difficult to think clearly upon the subject without the aid of this wave-theory."[19]

In short, it is obvious that without the help of this mythologic, poetic, image-forming faculty, all our pursuit of truth were in vain. And therefore, starting from the common basis of a confession that "something is," we are more than justified, we are obeying a necessary law of our nature, in asking what that eternal substratum of existence is, and with what morphologic aid the imagination may best present it for our contemplation.

But here the pure logician may perhaps retort: "You forget that the conceptions men form of things are, at their very best, nothing more than human, and therefore relative conceptions. A fly or a fish probably sees things differently. And an inhabitant of Mercury or Saturn might form a conception of the universe bearing little resemblance to yours."[20] Quite true; but logicians there, too, would probably be heard to complain that, colored by Saturnian or Mercurian relativities, truth was sadly impure, and was, in fact, attained by no one but themselves. Nay, in those other worlds priests of Logic might be found so wrapped in superstition as to launch epithets of contempt on all who approached to puncture their inflated fallacies, and who devoutly believed that a syllogism did not contain a petitio principii[21] neatly wrapped up in its own premises, and an induction was not an application of a preëxisting general idea, but a downright discovery of absolute truth. If from such afflictions we on earth are free, it is because the common sense of mankind declares itself serenely content with the relative and the human; because, while fully aware (from our schoolboy days) that all our faculties—reason among the rest—are limited and earthly, we have faith that "all is well" in mind, as it certainly is in matter; and because we smile at the simplicity of our modern wranglers, who can only analyze down as far as "Something," when their Buddhist masters two thousand years ago had dug far deeper, viz., to Nothing:

The mind of the supreme Buddha is swift, quick, piercing, because he is infinitely "pure." Nirwana is the destruction of all the elements of existence. The being who is "purified" knows there is no Ego, no self; all the afflictions connected with existence are overcome, all the principles of existence are annihilated, and that annihilation is Nirwana.
[22]

The Churchman, therefore, holds himself so far justified in claiming the modern atheist as his ally. They are at least traveling both together on the high-road which leads from a destructive nihilism toward a constructive religion. Only the atheist has thought it his duty to go back again to the beginning, and to measure industriously the same ground that the Church had gone over just two thousand four hundred years ago, when the great "Something is" addressed itself to man through Moses in the word "I am," or Jehovah (יהוה, Absolute Existence).[23]

But perhaps the pure logician may attempt another reply. Finding us not in the least disconcerted by hearing, once again, the familiar truth that all our faculties are limited, he may attempt to shatter our serenity by an announcement of a more novel kind. He may say: Not only is the imagery with which you clothe, represent, and conceive the Self-existent merely relative and human, but—far more damning fact—it is all a development. It has all grown with the growth of your race. Environment and heredity have supplied you with all your forms of thought. Even your "conscience is nothing more than an organized body of certain psychological elements which, by long inheritance, have come to inform us by way of intuitive feeling how we should act for the benefit of society."[24]

Be it so. The proof has not yet been made out. But since these evolution doctrines are (as Dr. Newman would say) "in the air," it is more consonant to the ruling ideas which at present dominate our imagination to conceive things in this way. Indeed, to a large and increasing number of Churchmen the evolution hypothesis appears, not only profoundly interesting, but probably true. They find there nothing to shake their faith, and a good deal to confirm it. Man is what he is, in whatever way he may have become so. And how atheists can persuade themselves that this beautiful theory of the divine method helps their denial of a deity, the modern school of theologians is at a loss to understand. For the cosmic force whom Christians worship has, from the very beginning, been represented to them, not as a fickle, but as a continuous and a law-abiding energy. "My Father worketh hitherto," said Christ. "Not a sparrow falleth to the ground" without his cognizance. "The very hairs of your head are all numbered." "In Him we live and move and have our being." Pictorial expressions, no doubt. But what words could more clearly indicate the unbroken continuity of causation in nature than these texts from the Christian Scriptures? And it is surely the establishment of a continuous, as distinct from an intermittent, agency in nature which forms the leading point of interest both to science and to the Church, at the present day, as against a shallow deism. If, therefore, man's imaginative and moral faculties, as we know them now, are a development from former and lower—yes, even from savage, from bestial, from material—antecedents, what is that to us? Of man's logical powers the self-same thing has to be said. Why, then, should Logic give itself such mighty airs of superiority and forget its equally humble origin? How does it affect the truthfulness in relation to man, and the trustworthiness, for all practical purposes, of our image-forming faculties, that it is what it is only after long evolution, and that the race had a fœtal period as well as the individual?

The upshot, then, of the whole discussion is surely this: The Absolute is confessedly inconceivable by man. All our mental faculties are in the same category: they are all finite, relative, imperfect. But then they are suited to our present development and environment. Faith in them is therefore required, and a bold masculine use of them all. For in nature, as in grace, "God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."[25] If, then, there are questions into which mere analytic reasoning can not enter, if Logic is powerless, for instance, before a musical score, and is struck dumb before the self-devotion of Thermopylæ, or the unapproachable self-sacrifice of Calvary, by what right are we forbidden to employ these other faculties which help us, and whose constructive help brings joy and health and peace to our minds? The many-colored poetical aspect of things is, assuredly, no less "pure" and far more interesting than the washed-out and colorless zero reached by interminable analysis. The colored sunlight is no less "pure," and it reveals a great deal more of truth, than "the pale moon's watery beams." And so we venture to predict that a constructive Christianity which, πολνμέρως καὶ πολντρόπως,[26] reveals the cosmic force and unity to the millions of men, will ever hold its own against a merely destructive Buddhism, whether ancient or modern; and, long after pure Logic has said its last word and—with a faint cry, "Something perhaps is"—has evaporated into Nirwana, will continue its thrice-blessed efforts to rear a palace of human thought, will handle with reserve and dignity the best results of all the sciences, and will integrate (with courage and not despair) the infinite contributions of all phenomena into a theology of practical utility to the further evolution of the human race.

For evolution there has certainly been. And in spite of all that has been said to the contrary,[27] the moral atmosphere which has from age to age rendered mental progress possible has been, for the most part, engendered by religion, and, above all, by the confidence, peace, and brotherhood preached by the Christian Church. No doubt religion was cradled amid gross superstitions; and only by great and perilous transitions has it advanced from the lower to the higher. It was a great step from the fetich and the teraphim to the animal and plant symbols of Egypt and Assyria. It was another great step to Baal, the blazing sun, and Moloch, wielder of draught and sunstroke, and Agni, friendly comrade of the hearth. But when astronomy and physics had reached sufficient growth to master all these wonders, and to predict the solstices and the eclipses, then the fullness of times had come once more; and now the greatest religious transition was accomplished that the human race has ever seen—a transition from the physical, and the brutal, and the astral, to the human and the moral, in man's search after a true (or the to him truest possible) representation of the infinite forces at play around him. In Abraham the Hebrew—עברי, the man who made the great transition—this important advance is typified for the Semitic races; for others, the results only are seen in the Olympian conceptions of Hesiod and Homer. For here we have, at last, the nature-forces presided over and controlled after a really human fashion. Crude, and only semi-moral, after all, as was this earliest humanizing effort, still human it was—not mechanical nor bestial. And it opened the way for Socrates to bring down philosophy, too, from heaven to earth, for Plato to discuss the mental processes in man, and apply them (writ large) to the processes of nature, and for Moses to elaborate with a divine sagacity a completely organized society, saturated through every fiber with this one idea—the unity of all the nature-forces, great and small, and their government, not by hap-hazard, or malignity, or fate, but by what we men call law. "Thou hast given them a law which shall not be broken." For this word "law" distinctly connotes rationality. It implies a quality akin to, and therefore expressible in terms of, human reason. Its usage on every page of every book of science means that; and repudiates, therefore, by anticipation, the dismal invitations to scientific despair with which the logicians à outrance are now so pressingly obliging us.

This grand transition, then, once made, all else became easy. The human imagination, the poetic or plastic power lodged in our brain, after many failures, had now at last got on the high-road which led straight to the goal. Redemption had come; it only needed to be unfolded to its utmost capabilities. Dull fate, dumb, sullen, and impracticable, had been renounced as infra-human and unworthy. Let stocks and stones in the mountains and the forests be ruled by it; not free, glad, and glorious men! Brute, bestial instinct also had been renounced, as contemptible and undivine in the highest degree. And so, at last, the culminating point was attained. The human-divine of Asiatic speculation, and the divinely-human of European philosophy, met and coalesced; and from that wedlock emerged Christianity. The "Something is" of mere bald analytic reasoning had become clothed by the imagination with that perfect human form and character than which nothing known to man is higher; and that very manhood, which is nowadays so loudly asserted by positivists and atheists to be the most divine thing known to science, was precisely the form in which the new religion preached that the great exterior existence, the Something Is, the awful "I am," can alone be presented intelligibly to man. For "No man shall see Jehovah and live," says the Old Testament: "No man hath seen God at any time," says the New Testament; the Son of man, who is εὶς τὸν κόλπον το~ν πατρὸς[28]—projected on the bosom of the absolute "I am"—he hath declared him.

Of this language in St. John's Gospel, it is obvious that Hegel's doctrine—echoed afterward by Comte and the positivists—is a sort of variation set in a lower key. In humanity, said he, the divine idea emerges from the material and the bestial into the self-conscious. Humanity presents us with the best we can ever know of the divine. In "the Son of man" that something which lies behind, and which no man can attain to, becomes incarnate, visible, imaginable. But it can not surely be meant by these philosophers that in the sons of men taken at hap-hazard the Divinity, the great Cosmic Unknown, is best presented to us. It can not possibly be maintained that in the Chinese swarming on their canals, in the hideous savages of Polynesia, or in the mobs of our great European capitals, the "Something is" can be effectively studied, idealized, adored. No, it were surely a truer statement that humanity concentrated in its very purest known form, and refined as much as may be from all its animalism, were the clear lens (as it were) through which to contemplate the great Cosmic Power beyond. It is, therefore, a son of man, and not the ordinary sons of men, that we require to aid our minds and uplift our aspirations. Mankind is hardly to be saved from retrograde evolution by superciliously looking round upon a myriad of mediocre realities. It must be helped on, if at all, by a new variety in our species suddenly putting forth in our midst, attracting wide attention, securing descendants, and offering an ideal, a goal in advance, toward which effort and conflict shall tend. We must be won over from our worldly lusts and our animal propensities by engaging our hearts on higher objects. We must learn a lesson in practical morals from the youth who is redeemed from rude boyhood and coarse selfishness by love. We must allow the latent spark of moral desire to be fanned into a flame, and, by the enkindling admiration of a human beauty above the plane of character hitherto attained by man, to consume away the animal dross and prepare for new environments that may be in store for us. What student does not know how the heat of love for truth not yet attained breaks up a heap of prejudices and fixed ideas, and gives a sort of molecular instability to the mind, preparing it for the most surprising transformations? Who has not observed the development of almost a new eye for color, or a new ear for refinements in sound, by the mere constant presentation of a higher æsthetic ideal? And just in the same way, who that knows anything of mankind can have failed to perceive that the only successful method by which character is permanently improved is by employing the force of example, by accumulating on the conscience reiterated touches of a new moral color, and by bringing to bear from above the power of an acknowledged ideal, and (if possible) from around the simultaneous influence of a similarly affected environment?

Baptize now all these truths, translate them into the ordinary current language of the Church, and you have simply neither more nor less than the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as carbon is carbon, whether it be presented as coal or as diamond, so are these high and man-redeeming verities—about the inscrutable "I am," and his intelligible presentment in a strangely unique Son of man, and the transmuting agency of a brotherhood saturated with his Spirit and pledged to keep his presence ever fresh and effective—verities still, whether they take on homely and practical or dazzling and scientific forms. And the foolish man is surely he who, educated enough to know better, scorns the lowly form, and is pedantic enough to suggest the refinements of the lecture-room as suitable for the rough uses of every-day life. A man of sense will rather say: Let us by all means retain and—with insight and trust—employ the homely traditional forms of these sublime truths: let us forbear, in charity for others, to weaken their influence, and so to cut away the lower rounds of the very ladder by which we ourselves ascended: and let us too, in mercy to our own health of character, decline to stand aloof from the world of common men, or to relegate away among the lumber of our lives the ἕπεα φπνᾶντα συνέτοισιν[29] that we learned of simple saintly lips in childhood. Rather, as the Son of man hath bidden us, we will "bring out of our treasures things both new and old"; will remember, as Aquinas taught, that "nova nomina antiquam fidem de Deo significant"[30]; and will carry out in practice that word well spoken in good season, "It is not by rejecting what is formal, but by interpreting it, that we advance in true spirituality."[31]

II. On the other hand, if men of science are to be won back to the Church, and the widening gulf is to be bridged over which threatens nowadays the destruction of all that we hold dear, it can not be too often or too earnestly repeated, The Church must not part company with the world she is commissioned to evangelize. She must awake both from her renaissance and her mediæval dreams. To turn over on her uneasy couch, and try by conscious effort to dream those dreams again, when daylight is come and all the house is fully astir, this surely were the height of faithless folly. An animating time of action is come, a day requiring the best exercise of skill and knowledge and moral courage. Shall we hear within the camp, at such a moment as this, a treasonable whisper go round: "By one act of mental suicide we may contrive to escape all further exertion; science is perplexing, history is full of doubts, psychology spins webs too fine for our self-indulgence even to think of? Why not make believe very hard to have found an infallible oracle, and determine once for all to desert our post and ‘jurare in verba magistri’[32]?" It is true that history demonstrates beyond a doubt that Jesus and his apostles knew nothing of any such contrivance. But never mind! "A Catholic who should adhere to the testimony of history, when it appears to contradict the Church, would be guilty not merely of treason and heresy, but of apostasy."[33] Yes, of treason to Rome, but of faithful and courageous loyalty to Christ. "I am the truth," said Christ. "The truth shall make you free." Speak the truth in love, prove all things, hold fast that which is true, said his apostles. How can it ever be consonant to his will that the members of his brotherhood should conspire together to make believe that white is black at the bidding of any man on earth? The Church of England, at any rate, has no such treason to answer for. Her doctrinal canons, by distinctly asserting that even "General Councils may err and have erred" and by a constant appeal to ancient documents, universally accepted, but capable of ever-improving interpretation, have averted the curse of a sterile traditionalism. No new light is at any time inaccessible to her. Every historical truth is treasured, every literary discussion is welcome, every scientific discovery finds at last a place amid her system. Time and patience are, of course, required to rearrange and harmonize all things together new and old; and a claim is rightly made that new "truths" should first be substantiated as such, before they are incorporated into so vast and widespread an engine of popular education as hers. But, with this proviso, "Theology accepts every certain conclusion of physical science as man's unfolding of God's book of nature."[34] It is therefore most unwise, if any of her clergy pose themselves as hostile to new discoveries, whether in history, literature, or science. It may be natural to take up such an attitude; and a certain impatience and resentment at the manner in which these things are often paraded, in the crudest forms and before an unprepared public, may be easily condoned by all candid men. But such an attitude of suspicion and hostility between "things old" and "things new" goes far beyond the commission to "banish and drive away all strange and erroneous doctrines contrary to God's word." For this commission requires proof, and not surmise, that they are erroneous; and the Church has had experience, over and over again, how easy and how disastrous it is to banish from the door an unwelcome guest, who was perhaps nothing less than an angel in disguise. The story of Galileo will never cease, while the world lasts, to cause the enemies of the Church to blaspheme. Yet of late years it has been honestly confessed by divines that "the oldest and the youngest of the natural sciences, astronomy and geology, so far from being dangerous, . . . seem providentially destined to engage the present century so powerfully that the ideal majesty of infinite time and endless space might counteract a low and narrow materialism."[35]

This experience ought not to be thrown away. No one, who has paid a serious attention to the progress of the modern sciences, can entertain a doubt that all the really substantiated discoveries which have been supposed to contravene Christianity do in reality only deepen its profundity and emphasize its indispensable necessity for man. Never before, in all the history of mankind, has the Deity seemed so awful, so remote from man, so mighty in the tremendous forces that he wields, so majestic in the permanence and tranquillity of his resistless will. Never before has man realized his own excessive smallness and impotence; his inability to destroy—much more, to create—one atom or molecule; his dependence for life, for thought, for character even, on the material environment of which he once thought himself the master. The forces of nature, then, have become to him once more, as in the infancy of his race, almost a terror. And poised midway, for a few eventful hours, between an infinite past of which he knows a little and an infinite future of which he knows nothing, he is tempted to despair of himself and of his little planet, and in childish petulance to complain, "My whilom conceit is broken; there is nothing else to live for." And amid these foolish despairs, a voice is heard which says: "Have faith in God! have hope in Christ! have love to man! Knowledge of this tremendous substratum of all being it is not for man to have: his knowledge is confined to phenomena and to very human (but sufficient) conceptions of the so called laws by which they all cohere. But these three qualities are moral, not intellectual, virtues. For the Church never teaches that God can be scientifically known; she never offers certainty and sight, but only "hope," in many an ascending degree; she does not say that God is a man, a person like one of us—that were indeed perversely to misunderstand her subtile terminology—but only a Man has appeared, when the time was ripe for him, in whom that awful and tremendous existence has shown us something of his ideas, has made intelligible to us (as it were by a word to the listening ear) what we may venture to call his "mind" toward us, and has invited us—by the simple expedient of giving our heart's loyalty to this most lovable Son of man—to reach out peacefully to higher evolutions, and to commit that indestructible force, our life, to him in serene well-doing to the brotherhood among whom his Spirit works, and whose welfare he accounts his own.

Is not this humanizing of the great Existence, for moral and practical utility, and this utterance (so to speak) of yet another creative word in the ascending scale of continuous development, and this socializing of his sweet, beneficent Spirit in a brotherhood as wide as the world, precisely the religion most adapted to accord with modern science? Yet no one can listen to ordinary sermons, no one can open popular books of piety or of doctrine, without feeling the urgent need there is among Churchmen for a higher appreciation of the majestic infinitude of God. It is true that, in these cases, it is the multitude and not the highly educated few who are addressed; and that, even among that multitude, there are none so grossly ignorant as to compare the Trinity to "three Lord Shaftesburys," and not many so childish as to picture "one Almighty descending into hell to pacify another."[36] Such petulance is reserved for men of the highest intellectual gifts, who—whether purposely or ignorantly, it is hard to say—have stooped to provide their generation with a comic theology of the Christian Church. But, after all, it is impossible not to feel that the shadows of a well-loved past are lingering too long over a present that might be bright with joyous sunshine; that the subtilties of the schoolmen are too long allowed to darken the air with pointless and antiquated weapons; that the Renaissance, with its literary fanaticism, still reigns over the whole domain of Christian book-lore; and that the crude conceptions of the Ptolemaic astronomy have never yet, among ecclesiastics, been thoroughly dislodged or replaced by the far more magnificent revelations of the modern telescope. It is not asserted that no percolation of "things new" is going on. It is not denied that as in the first century a change in ideas about the priesthood carried with it a change in the whole religious system of which that formed the axis,[37] so now a change in ideas about the earth's position in space demands a very skillful and patient readjustment of all our connected ideas. But such a readjustment of the old Semitic faith was effected, in the first century, by St. Paul; and there is no reason to think that the Church is unequal to similar tasks now. And in this country especially there is an established and organized "Ecclesia docens"[38] which probably never had its equal in all Church history for the literary and scientific eminence of its leading members. For such a society to despair of readjusting its theology to contemporary science, or idly to stand by while others effect the junction, were indeed a disgraceful and incredible treason; so incredible that—until it be proved otherwise—no amount of vituperation or unpopularity should induce any reflecting Englishman to render that work impossible by allowing his Church to be trampled down, and its time honored framework to be given up as a spoil to chaos.

But there is yet another element in this question which binds the Church of Christ to give to its solution the very closest and most indefatigable attention. It is this: that from every science there arises nowadays a cry like that addressed to Jesus himself when on earth, "Lord, help me!" It is not as if atheism were satisfied with itself. In the pages of the "National Reformer" and similar organs of aggressive free thought we are amused with the buoyant audacity of the "young idea." Yet even there we find many a passage which calls forth the sincerest sympathy. Take, for instance, the following:

 
There are few reflective persons who have not been, now and again, impressed with awe as they looked back on the past of humanity. . . . It is then that we see the grandest illustrations of that unending necessity under which, it would seem, man labors, the necessity of abandoning ever and again the heritage of his fathers, . . . of continually leaving behind him the citadel of faith and peace, raised by the piety of the past, for an atmosphere of tumult and denial. . . . Whatever may be our present conclusions about Christianity, we can not too often remember that it has been one of the most important factors in the life of mankind."[39]
 

This is touching enough—though perhaps the stolid aggressiveness which knows, as yet, no relentings, is really a far more tragic spectacle. But there are other lamentations, uttered of late years by distinguished atheists, which might move a heart of stone, much more should stir the energies of every Christian teacher—himself at peace—to seek by any sacrifice of his own ease or settled preconceptions an "cirenicon," a method of conciliation, an opening for a mutual confession of needless estrangement and provocation.

 
Does that new philosophy of history which destroys the Christian philosophy of it afford an adequate basis for such a reconstruction of the ideal as is required? Candidly we must reply, "Not yet.". . . Very far are we from being the first who have experienced the agony of discovered delusion. . . . Well may despair almost seize on one who has been, not in name only, but in very truth, a Christian, when that incarnation which had given him in Christ an ever-living brother and friend is found to be but an old myth [of Osiris] with a new life in it.[40]

The most serious trial through which society can pass is encountered in the exuviation of its religious restraints.[41]

Never in the history of man has so terrific a calamity befallen the race as that which all who look may now behold advancing as a deluge, black with destruction, resistless in might, uprooting our most cherished hopes, ingulfing our most precious creed, and burying our highest life in mindless desolation. The flood-gates of infidelity are open, and atheism overwhelming is upon us. . . . Man has become, in a new sense, the measure of the universe; and in this, the latest and most appalling of his soundings, indications are returned from the infinite voids of space and time that his intelligence, with all its noble capacities for love and adoration, is yet alone—destitute of kith or kin in all this universe of being. . . . Forasmuch as I am far from being able to agree with those who affirm that the twilight doctrine of the "new faith" is a desirable substitute for the waning splendor of "the old," I am not ashamed to confess that, with this virtual negation of God, the universe to me has lost its soul of loveliness. And when at times I think, as think at times I must, of the appalling contrast between the hallowed glory of that creed which once was mine and the lonely mystery of existence as now I find it—at such times I shall ever feel it impossible to avoid the sharpest pang of which my nature is susceptible.[42]

 

It is well that Churchmen should be aware of this state of things; and especially that the clergy, when they are tempted to have their fling (secure from all reply) against the so-called "infidel," should bear in mind how often the bravery of defiant arrogance is a mere mask to cover a sinking heart. For pity's sake, therefore, as well as for their own sake, the clergy should guard against two gross but common mistakes: 1. The mistake of abusing modern science, and depreciating its unquestionable difficulties in relation to the established theology; 2. The still more fatal blunder of trusting to worn-out tactics and to the "artillery" of Jonathan and David for the reduction of these modern earthworks. "To the Greeks became I as a Greek," said St. Paul. And so must the minister of Christ in these days make up his mind to bring home the gospel to his own countrymen, with all their faults and peculiarities; and to the Englishmen of the nineteenth century must become an Englishman of the nineteenth century, that he "may by all means save some."

But no success will be obtained, unless Churchmen will remember that the vast domains recently conquered by science are (practically speaking) assured and certain conquests. They are no encroachment, but a rightful "revindication" of scientific territory. And, accepted in a friendly spirit, harmonized with skill and boldness, and consecrated (not cursed) in the Master's name, they bid fair to become a new realm whereon his peace-bringing banner may be right royally unfolded, and where, even in our own day, the beginning of a permanent unity may certainly be effected. And this must be attempted by a brave and telling proclamation of the great Christian doctrines—that the awful self-existent "I AM" is none other than "our Father in heaven"; that Christ, the blameless Son of man, is the best image of his person; and that his pure Spirit, brooding over the turbid chaos of human society, offers the surest means and pledge of a future Cosmos, where "life" may perhaps transcend these baffling veils of space and time, and, in forms "undreamed of by our philosophy," display the boundless riches of nature and of God.—Contemporary Review.

 

  1. Everything issues into theology.
  2. Spencer, "Sociology" (seventh edition, 1878), p. 313.
  3. Cf. Mivart, "Contemporary Evolution" (1876), p. 134.
  4. Physicus, "Examination of Theism" (1878), p. 142: "What was the essential substance of that [atheistic] theory? Apparently it was the bare statement of the unthinkable fact that Something Is. The essence of atheism I take to consist in the single dogma of self-existence as itself sufficient to constitute a theory of things."
  5. Strauss, "Der alte und der neue Glaube" (fourth edition, 1873), p. 116.
  6. Hartmann, "Gott und Naturwissenschaft" (second edition, 1872), p. 14.
  7. M. Arnold, "Literature and Dogma," p. 306.
  8. J. S. Mill, "Essays on Religion," p. 124. Cf. Lucretius, vi., and Seneca, Nat. Qu. i 1.
  9. Huxley, "Lay Sermons."
  10. The "Upanishad": ap. Clarke's "Ten Great Religions," p. 84.
  11. Formula of agreement.
  12. Gal. iv. 9; Clem. Alex., Strom, v. 11; Cyr. Jer., Cat. Lect. xi. 3; Aug., Confess. xiii. 11; Joh. Dam., De Fide Orthod. i. 2; Duns Scotus, In Sent. i. 3. l.
  13. Essence.
  14. Quality.
  15. Quantity.
  16. We can not.
  17. Put nature out with a pitchfork.
  18. "Examination of Theism," p. 84.
  19. Cooke, "The New Chemistry" (fourth edition, 1878), p. 22.
  20. "Physicus" (p. 143) rides this logical bobby far beyond the confines of the sublime. He demands of the theist to show that his "God is something more than a mere causal agent which is 'absolute' in the grotesquely restricted sense of being independent of one petty race of creatures with an ephemeral experience of what is going on in one tiny corner of the universe."
  21. Begging the question.
  22. Hardy, "Eastern Monachism," p. 291.
  23. Exodus vi. 3.
  24. "Physicus," p. 31.
  25. 2 Timothy i. 7.
  26. At sundry times and in divers manners.
  27. Draper, "The Conflict between Religion and Science," New York, 1873. This otherwise admirable work is disfigured throughout by a prejudice against religion, as a factor in human progress, which is almost childish. The learned author surely forgets his own words, "No one can spend a large part of his life in teaching science, without partaking of that love of impartiality and truth which philosophy incites" (p. ix.).
  28. On the Father's bosom.
  29. Words that have a meaning for those who understand.
  30. The new terms signify the ancient faith concerning God.
  31. "The Patience of Hope," p. 70.
  32. Swear as a master bids.
  33. Abbé Martin, "Contemporary Review," December, 1878, p. 94.
  34. Dr. Pusey, "University Sermon," November, 1878.
  35. Kalisch, "On Genesis," p. 43.
  36. M. Arnold, "Literature," etc. (1873), p. 306. Spencer, "Sociology" (seventh edition, 1878), p. 208.
  37. Hebrews vii. 12.
  38. Teaching Church.
  39. Bradlaugh's "National Reformer," October 6, 1878.
  40. Stuart Glennie, "In the Morning Land" (1873), pp. 29, 378, 431.
  41. Draper, "Religion and Science" (eleventh edition, 1878), p. 328.
  42. Physicus, "On Theism," pp. 51, 63, 114.