Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/June 1883/Editor's Table
SCIENCE, LITERATURE, AND THEOLOGY.
THE discussion of the relations of these great elements of thought proceeds vigorously. "Line upon line and precept upon precept" accumulate; while the last instructive line respecting science and literature comes from the London "Times," and the last weighty precept concerning science and theology from the President of Harvard University.
In connection with the meeting of the civil engineers, held recently in London, the "Times" of that city makes the following significant declarations, which it is desirable to place upon permanent record, both as the deliberate utterance of an influential organ of public opinion and because of the incontestable truth of the statement itself. The "Times" says:
"Meetings such as that of Saturday evening remind us not merely of the services of a particular branch of science to mankind, but of the remarkable determination of human activity to scientific pursuits which is characteristic of the present age. Literature no longer holds the place it once did in the minds of men; nor does it command, as it once did, the services of the most powerful intelligences. The protest against an education wholly or chiefly consisting of the study of the classics is the result of a profound change in the conditions of life. Men have not deliberately and as a result of abstract reasoning discarded one set of studies in favor of another. On the contrary, they have discovered, often to their great chagrin, that a complete intellectual displacement has taken place. That which was taken up under protest, as a thing too closely connected with utilitarian pursuits to be quite worthy of a man of intellect, has now pressed into its service tho chief intellectual power of the country. The tide of intellectual effort sets strongly in the direction of science, just as at an earlier period it set in the direction of letters. The teachers and leaders of the day, the real dominant forces of the age, are the men of science, the investigators of natural phenomena, not the thinkers, philosophers, or metaphysicians who formerly gave their name to sects, and made all the world their partisans. Nothing is more remarkable than the profound respect of the scientific conception associated with the name of Darwin, not on science only, but on literature, art, morals, and, in short, upon life. Some will tell us that all this is a lamentable result of the materialism of the age; but we naturally ask how it happens that some centuries of a nonscientific or literary culture left us a prey to the materialism it is supposed to antidote? It is untrue, moreover, that material interest has been the great impelling force. The great discoveries of science have usually been made by men seeking no material reward, and, as a matter of fact, receiving very little. Science pursues her own way for the most part, and her discoveries are afterward utilized by men eagerly seeking for the means of material enrichment. Even when it is a question of so practical a thing as a new dye, it will be found that the chemist, searching into the properties and combinations of matter, comes upon the secret unawares, while the manufacturer and the dyer reap the profits. It is, indeed, only upon these terms that Nature yields up her secrets."
Quite in the spirit of the foregoing, though in a different and more special direction, is the article of President Eliot, of Harvard, in the "Princeton Review" for May, "On the Education of Ministers." President Eliot declares that the education of the clerical profession has fallen so far behind the age as to be out of relation with it, and to have consequently lost its ancient commanding influence, and even resulted in the degeneration of the clerical character. In the early part of his able article he shows the eminent position formerly occupied by the clergy as intellectual leaders. They were founders of colleges, and the largest professional class among the students. While a hundred years ago in Harvard, Yale, and Princeton the clerical graduates were respectively 29, 32, and 45 per cent, they have now fallen so far behind that "in the six years from 1871 to 1876 the percentage of ministers among the graduates of the same institutions was, in Harvard, 54; in Yale, 7; in Princeton, 17." President Eliot then glances at the great changes that have gone forward in society during the last hundred years, profoundly affecting the beliefs of men on many important questions, and bringing new and extensive knowledge to bear upon practical and everyday problems in relation to social affairs. Coincident with these movements, the temper of the public mind has undergone a wonderful change within a century upon several points which vitally affect the clerical profession. In the first place, the weight of all authority has greatly diminished, and the sources of recognized authority are quite different from what they were a century ago. The priest, like the secular ruler, has lost all that magical or necromantic quality which formerly inspired the multitude with awe; and the divine right of the minister is as dead among Protestants in our country as the divine right of kings. . . . Again, the people in these days question all things and all men, and accept nothing without examination. They have observed that discussion often elicits truth, that controversy is useful on many difficult subjects, and that in some circumstances many heads are better than one; hence they have learned to distrust all ex cathedra teaching, and to wait for the consent of many minds before giving their adhesion to new doctrines. We hardly realize how very recently the masses have acquired these invaluable habits, or how profoundly these habits have affected the position of the minister."
But it is in the recent progress of science that President Eliot finds the influence by which the position of the clerical profession is most profoundly affected in these times. On this subject he says: We come now, in the fourth place under this head, to the most potent cause of change in the relative position of the ministry within this century, namely, the rise and development of physical and natural science. The immense acquisitions of actual knowledge which have been amassed in this new field, the great increase of man's power over nature, the consequent changes in each man's relations to his fellow-men and to the physical earth, including the wonderful expansion of his interests and sympathies, his emancipation from superstitions, and the exaltation of his prospects and hopes, are all facts of the utmost moment to the race; but it is not these facts, tremendous though they are, which most concern us in the present discussion. The important point for us now to observe is that, during the growth of natural science, a new method or spirit of inquiry has been gradually developed, which is characterized by an absolute freedom on the part of the inquirer from the influence of prepossessions or desires as to results. This spirit seeks only the fact, without the slightest regard to consequences; any twisting or obscuring of the fact to accommodate it to a preconceived theory, hope, or wish, any tampering with the actual result of investigation, is the unpardonable sin. It is a spirit at once humble and dauntless, patient of details, drawing indeed no distinction between great and small, but only between true and false; passionless, but energetic, venturing into pathless wastes to bring back a fact, caring only for truth, candid as a still lake, expectant, unfettered, and tireless.
"The achievements of scientific inquirers, animated by this spirit of sincerity and truth, have been so extraordinary within the past sixty years, and this candid spirit is in itself so admirable, that the educated world has accepted it as the only true inspiration of research in all departments of learning. No other method of inquiry now commands respect. Even the ignorant have learned to despise the process of searching for proofs of a foregone conclusion. Apologetics have ceased to convince anybody, if they ever did. Thus the civilized world has set up a new standard of intellectual sincerity, and Protestant theologians and ministers must rise to that standard if they would continue to command the respect of mankind. How different was the situation of the profession when diplomacy was the only other learned calling! Even the legal profession, as it was gradually differentiated from the clerical, made no such sharp requisition of mental honesty and independence. It is the electric light of science which has made white and transparent the whole temple of learning. These remarks imply that ministers, as a class, and as a necessary consequence of the ordinary manner of their education and induction into office, are peculiarly liable to be deficient in intellectual candor; and that is what I, in common with millions of thoughtful men, really think; and I think further that this belief on the part of multitudes of educated men, most of whom are silent on the subject, is a potent cause of the decline of the ministry during the past forty years. The fault is quite as much that of the churches or sects as of the individual ministers; for almost every church or sect endeavors to tie its members, and particularly its ministers, to a creed, a set of articles or a body of formulas. These bonds are put on by most ministers at an early age, and must be worn all their lives, on peril of severing beloved associations, or, perhaps, losing a livelihood. The study, reading, and experience of fifty years are supposed to work no essential change in the opinions of the youth. The creed or the articles may be somewhat vague and elastic, but can not honestly be stretched much. Now, the lay world believes in the progress of knowledge, because it has witnessed progress; and it is persuaded that there must be incessant progress in theological science as well as in all other branches of learning. It does not see metaphysicians, physicians, historians, chemists, zoologists, or geologists, committing themselves in youth to a set of opinions which is to last them a lifetime, or even a day; on the contrary, they see all these classes of scholars avowedly holding their present opinions subject to change upon the discovery of new facts, or of better light upon old facts, and, as a rule, actually modifying their opinions in important respects between youth and age. Indeed, fixity of opinion is hardly respectable among scholars. If it be said that there can be no progress in theology, because revelation was a fixed historical quantity, the answer is, that revelation, like creation, must be fluent; or, in other words, that the interpretation of revelation to the mind of man must be like the interpretation of creation, ever flowing, shifting, and, if the mind of man improves, improving. No other profession is under such terrible stress of temptation to intellectual dishonesty as the clerical profession is, and at the same time the public standard of intellectual candor has been set higher than ever before. This is the state of things which deters many young men of ability and independence from entering the profession, and causes the acknowledged dearth of able ministers."
HEBER NEWTON AND THE HERESY HUNTERS.
These observations of President Eliot find an apt illustration in the case of the Rev. Heber Newton, which is now attracting a good deal of public attention. Intelligence and liberality have undoubtedly made great headway, and put the theological profession out of joint with the enlightenment of the times; but there is a pious-ignorant class of great influence that is not to be overlooked. Is it indeed so certain whether intelligence or stupidity is in the saddle in the popular theological arena? Certain foolish fanatics have combined to hunt the Rev. Heber Newton out of the Episcopal Church, on the old charge of heresy. And what is the pretext of this action? Why, the reverend gentleman appears to have been doing a little thinking on his own account—the mortal sin of theology! They say he made a solemn bargain, a vow, that he would do no independent thinking, have no opinions of his own, but simply re-echo the authorized creed, and that, having now begun to inquire, he is no longer fit to remain in the Christian Church.
Mr. Newton has ventured to think and to speak about the use and abuse of the Christian Scriptures—a proper subject, one would suppose, for a clerical teacher. He has opinions, sincere opinions, which he deems important, about the inspiration of the Bible, and how that phrase is to be understood. Now, it is incontestable that there has grown up an interesting and important accumulation of knowledge about the Bible in recent years, and knowledge determines opinion, in spite of all the theology in the world. And so it comes about that Mr. Newton, having convictions upon the inspiration of the Bible, must suppress them, and thus go along in comfortable hypocrisy, or express them, and be turned out of the Church. This was the dark age policy, with certain grim accompaniments; but is the stupid bigotry of by-gone ages still in the Episcopal saddle? We shall see.
Meantime, we venture to suggest that the heresy-hunters widen a little the scope of their operations; for, if they are going to make thorough work in purging the Church from all advanced opinion, and tarn out everybody who blinks at the literalness of the verbal creed, they will have plenty of business, and can find a good many more cases quite as bad as that of Mr. Newton. We are told that the case is simply one of breach of contract. Enterprising editors, to whom an ecclesiastical trial would be as much of a godsend as the Saratoga horse-races, are especially solicitous about Heber Newton's contract to preach certain things which he is bound and sworn to preach while he remains in the Church.
Now, suppose these heresy-hunters institute an inquiry as to the extent of clerical dereliction in maintaining acknowledged Christian foundations. There can not be the slightest doubt as to the fundamental importance of a belief in hell, in our system of orthodox theology. It is the basal, and topmost, and all-impelling idea. The conception of hell is the corner-stone of the orthodox edifice, the key-stone of the orthodox arch; and, what the fires under the boiler are to the steam engine, that are the fires of hell to the orthodox "scheme of salvation." The idea pervades the Christian theology and hymnology, and has been preached, sung, and prayed now for some eighteen hundred years, the proclaimed object of the whole theological system being to save men from hell! Such being the theological import and historic prominence of the doctrine, which is explicitly conserved in the creeds, and solemnly avowed by all orthodox clergymen, would it not be well to look a little into the growth of modern heresy regarding it in the very bosom of the Church? How is it about the enforcement of the hell-fire contracts? It would be interesting to know how many times the fundamental hell-doctrine is referred to in the course of ordinary pulpit ministration, and how it is slurred over and put aside and ignored as if the preachers were ashamed to allude to it. We think an inquest of this sort would reveal the fact that there is a good deal more reservation, and private interpretation, and playing fast and loose with creed and Scripture, than our heresy-hunters are aware of; and, if they pushed their inquisitorial work very far in this direction, they would be pretty sure to vacate half the pulpits in the land.
THE BANQUET TO DR. HOLMES.
All who had the good fortune to be present at the complimentary dinner to Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, given by the Medical Faculty of New York at Delmonico's, April 12th, will long remember it as a rare occasion. It was a most appropriate tribute of honor to the distinguished guest, and the taste and elegance displayed in the banquet and the excellence of the judiciously chosen speakers did abundant credit to the managers of the affair. But their task was not difficult, for hardly ever before were such favorable elements combined to give success to such an occasion. In the first place, if the committee had gone around the world with lanterns, over all the lines of latitude and longitude, they could not have found another so eligible a man to exploit in the festive and honorary way as Dr. Holmes. Known, admired, and loved wherever the English language is spoken, illustrious as a poet, humorist, novelist, essayist, conversationalist, and lecturer, and, finally, so specially distinguished as an anatomist and physician as to command the high regard of the medical profession in the metropolis of the country, nothing was wanting to give inevitable success to any complimentary expression of unaffected admiration and profound respect. Delmonico is, of course, a constant quantity, and can be counted on for the perfection of a feast, but the intellectual furnishings in this case were spontaneous, varied, and also of the highest quality. When prose was exhausted, poetry came to the rescue, eloquence flowed as freely as the wine, divinity refused to be out-done by medicine in praise of the guest, the press claimed him as a typical journalist always ready for sagacious comment upon memorable events, and literature and science pressed their rival claims for the inscription of the name of Holmes upon their banners. The doctor took it all with the most gracious good-nature, knowing as well as anybody that there was a great deal more truth than flattery in the cordial utterances of which he was the target, and he gave the supremest proof of imperturbable good-humor by submitting to the insatiate exactions of a crowd of autograph-hunters who cornered him for their diabolical purposes after twelve o'clock.