Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/September 1895/New Chapters in the Warfare of Science: From Oracles to Higher Criticism IV
XX.—FROM THE DIVINE ORACLES TO THE HIGHER CRITICISM.
By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE, LL. D. (Yale), Ph. D. (Jena),
FORMERLY PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
IV. THE CLOSING STRUGGLE.
THE storm aroused by Essays and Reviews had not yet subsided when a far more serious tempest burst upon the English theological world.
In 1862 appeared a work entitled The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined, its author being Colenso, Anglican Bishop of Natal in South Africa. He had formerly been highly esteemed as fellow and tutor at Cambridge, master at Harrow, and author of various valuable text-books in mathematics. Had he exercised his powers within the limits of popular orthodoxy, he was evidently in the way to the highest positions in the Church; but he chose another path. His treatment of his subject was reverent, but he had gradually come to those conclusions, then so daring, now so widespread among Christian scholars, that the Pentateuch, with much valuable historical matter, contains much that is unhistorical; that a large portion of it was the work of a comparatively late period in Jewish history; that many passages in Deuteronomy could only have been written after the Jews settled in Canaan; that the Mosaic law was not in force before the captivity; that the book of Chronicles was clearly written as an afterthought to enforce the views of the priestly caste; and that in all the books there is much that is mythical and legendary.
These statements, which now seem so moderate, then aroused horror. Especial wrath was caused by some of his arithmetical arguments, and, among them, those which showed that an army of six hundred thousand men could not have been mobilized in a single night; that three millions of people, with their flocks and herds, could neither have obtained food on so small and arid a desert as that over which they were said to have wandered during forty years, nor water from a single well; and that the butchery of two hundred thousand Midianites by twelve thousand Israelites, "exceeding infinitely in atrocity the tragedy at Cawnpore, had happily only been carried out on paper." There was nothing of the scoffer in him. While preserving his own independence, he had kept in touch with the most earnest thought both among European scholars and in the little flock intrusted to his care. He evidently remembered what had resulted from the attempt to hold the working classes in the towns of France, Germany, and Italy to outworn beliefs; he had found even the Zulus, whom he had thought to convert, awakened to the legendary character of the Old Testament, and with his clear, practical mind he realized the danger which threatened the English Church and Christianity—the danger of tying its religion and morality to interpretations and conceptions of Scripture more and more widely seen and felt to be contrary to facts. He saw the especial danger of sham explanations; of covering up facts which must soon be known, and which, when all was revealed, must inevitably bring the plain people of England to regard their teachers, even the most deserving, as "solemnly constituted impostors"; ecclesiastics whose tenure depends on assertions which they know to be untrue. Therefore it was that, when his catechumens questioned him regarding some of the legends in the Old Testament, the bishop determined to tell the truth. He says: "My heart answered in the words of the prophet, 'Shall a man speak lies in the name of the Lord?' I determined not to do so."
But none of these considerations availed in his behalf at first. The outcry against the work was deafening; churchmen and dissenters rushed forward to attack it. Archdeacon Denison, chairman of the Committee of Convocation appointed to examine it, uttered a noisy anathema. Convocation solemnly condemned it; and a zealous colonial bishop, relying upon a nominal supremacy, deposed and excommunicated its author, declaring him "given over to Satan." On both sides of the Atlantic the press groaned with "answers," some of these being especially injurious to the cause they were intended to serve, and none more so than sundry efforts by the bishops themselves. One of the points upon which they attacked him was his assertion that the reference in Leviticus to the hare chewing its cud contains an error. Upon this Prof. Hitzig of Leipsic, probably the best Hebrew scholar of his time, remarked: "Your bishops are making themselves the laughingstock of Europe. Every Hebraist knows that the animal mentioned in Leviticus is really the hare; . . . every zoölogist knows that it does not chew the cud."
On Colenso's return to Natal, where many of the clergy and laity who felt grateful for his years of devotion to them received him with signs of affection, an attempt was made to ruin these clergymen by depriving them of their little stipends, and to terrify the simple-minded laity by threatening them with the same "greater excommunication" which had been inflicted upon their bishop. To make the meaning of this more evident, the vicargeneral of the Bishop of Cape Town met Colenso at the door of his own cathedral, and solemnly bade him "depart from the house of God as one who has been handed over to the Evil One" The sentence of excommunication was read before the assembled faithful, and they were enjoined to treat their bishop as "a heathen man and a publican." But these and a long series of other persecutions created a reaction in his favor.
There remained to Colenso one bulwark which his enemies found stronger than they had imagined—the British courts of justice. The greatest efforts were now made to gain the day before these courts, to humiliate Colenso, and to reduce to beggary the clergy who remained faithful to him, and it is worthy of note that one of the leaders in preparing the legal plea of the committee against the accused was Mr. Gladstone.
But this bulwark proved impregnable; both the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Rolls Court decided in Colenso's favor. Not only were his enemies thus forbidden to deprive him of his salary, but their excommunication of him was made null and void; it became, indeed, a subject of ridicule, and even a man so enwrapped in religious thought as John Keble confessed and lamented that the English people no longer believed in excommunication. The bitterness of the defeated found vent in the utterances of the colonial metropolitan who had excommunicated Colenso—Bishop Gray, "the Lion of Cape Town"—who denounced the judgment as "awful and profane" and the Privy Council as "a masterpiece of Satan" and "the great dragon of the English Church." Even Wilberforce, careful as he was to avoid attacking anything established, alluded with deep regret to "the devotion of the English people to the law in matters of this sort."
Their failure in the courts only seemed to increase the violence of the attacking party. The Anglican communion, both in England and America, was stirred to the depths against the heretic, and various dissenting bodies strove to show equal zeal. Great pains were taken to root out his reputation; it was declared that he had merely stolen the ideas of rationalists on the Continent by wholesale, and then peddled them out in England at retail; the fact being that, while he used all the sources of information at his command, and was large-minded enough to put himself into relations with the best biblical scholarship of the Continent, he was singularly independent in his judgment, and his own investigations were of lasting value in modifying Continental thought. Kuenen, the most distinguished of all his contemporaries in this field, modified, as he himself declared, one of his own leading theories after reading Colenso's argument; and other Continental scholars scarcely less eminent acknowledged their great indebtedness to the English scholar for original suggestions.
But the zeal of the bishop's enemies did not end with calumny. He was socially ostracized; more completely even than Lyell had been after the publication of his Principles of Geology thirty years before. Even old friends left him, among them Frederick Denison Maurice, who, when himself under the ban of heresy, had been defended by Colenso. Nor was Maurice the only heretic who turned against him; Matthew Arnold attacked him, and set up, as a true ideal of the work needed to improve the English Church and people, of all books in the world, Spinoza's Tractatus! A large part of the English populace was led to regard him as an "infidel," a "traitor," an "apostate," and even as "an unclean being"; servants left his house in horror; "Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart were let loose upon him"; and one of the favorite amusements of the period among men of petty wit and no convictions was the devising of light ribaldry against him.
In the midst of all this controversy stood three men, each of whom has connected his name with it permanently.
First of these was Samuel Wilberforce, at that time Bishop of Oxford. The gifted son of William Wilberforce, who had been honored throughout the world for his efforts in the suppression of the slave trade, he had been rapidly advanced in the English Church, and was at this time a prelate of wide influence. He was eloquent and diplomatic, witty and amiable, always sure to be with his fellow-churchmen and polite society against uncomfortable changes. Whether the struggle was against the slave power in the United States, or the squirearchy in Great Britain, or the evolution theory of Darwin, or the new views promulgated by the Essayists and Reviewers, he was always the suave spokesman of those who opposed every innovator and "besought him to depart out of their coasts." Mingling in curious proportions a truly religious feeling with care for his own advancement, his remarkable power in the pulpit gave him great strength to carry out his purposes, and his charming facility in being all things to all men, as well as his skill in evading the consequences of his many mistakes, gained him the sobriquet of "Soapy Sam." If such brethren of his in the episcopate as Thirlwall and Selwyn and Tait might claim to be in the apostolic succession, Wilberforce was no less surely in the succession from the most gifted and eminently respectable Sadducees who held high preferment under Pontius Pilate.
By a curious coincidence he had only a few years before preached the sermon when Colenso was consecrated in Westminster Abbey, and one passage in it may be cited as showing the preacher's gift of prophecy both hortatory and predictive. Wilberforce then said to Colenso: "You need boldness to risk all for God; to stand by the truth and its supporters against men's threatenings and the devil's wrath; . . . you need a patient meekness to bear the galling calumnies and false surmises with which, if you are faithful, that same Satanic working which, if it could, would burn your body, will assuredly assail you daily through the pens and tongues of deceivers and deceived, who, under a semblance of a zeal for Christ, will evermore distort your words, misrepresent your motives, rejoice in your failings, exaggerate your errors, and seek by every poisoned breath of slander to destroy your powers of service."
Unfortunately, when Colenso followed this advice, his adviser became the most untiring of his persecutors. While leaving to men like the Metropolitan of Cape Town and Archdeacon Denison the noisy part of the onslaught, Wilberforce was among those who were most zealous in devising more effective measures.
But time, and even short time, has redressed the balance between the two prelates. Colenso is seen more and more of all men as a righteous leader in a noble effort to cut the Church loose from fatal entanglements with an outworn system of interpretation; Wilberforce, as the remembrance of his eloquence and of his personal charms dies away, and as the revelations of his indiscreet biographers lay bare his modes of procedure, is seen to have left, on the whole, the mostrecord made by any Anglican prelate during the nineteenth century.
But there was a far brighter page in the history of the Church of England; for the second of the three who linked their names with that of Colenso in the struggle was Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster. His action during this whole persecution was an honor not only to the Anglican Church but to humanity. For his own manhood and the exercise of his own intellectual freedom he had cheerfully given up the high preferment in the Church which had been easily within his grasp. To him truth and justice were more than the decrees of a Convocation of Canterbury or of a Pan-Anglican Synod; in this as in other matters he braved the storm, never yielded to theological prejudice, from first to last held out a brotherly hand to the persecuted bishop, and at the most critical moment opened to him the pulpit of Westminster Abbey.
The third of the high ecclesiastics of the Church of England whose names were linked in this contest was Thirlwall.
He was undoubtedly the foremost man in the Church of his time—the greatest ecclesiastical statesman, the profoundest historical scholar, the theologian of clearest vision in regard to the relations between the Church and his epoch. Alone among his brother bishops at this period, he stood "four square to all the winds that blew," as during all his life he stood against all storms of clerical or popular unreason. He had his reward. He was never advanced beyond a poor Welsh bishopric; but, though he saw men wretchedly inferior constantly promoted beyond him, he never flinched, never lost heart or hope, but bore steadily on, refusing to hold a brief for lucrative injustice, and resisting to the last all reaction and fanaticism, thus preserving not only his own self-respect but the future respect of the English nation for the Church.
A few other leading churchmen were discreetly kind to Colenso, among them Tait, who had now been made Archbishop of Canterbury; but, manly as he was, he was somewhat more cautious in this matter than those who most revere his memory could now wish.
In spite of these friends the clerical onslaught was for a time effective; Colenso, so far as England was concerned, was discredited and virtually driven from his functions. But this enforced leisure simply gave him more time to struggle for the protection of his native flock against colonial rapacity, and to continue his great work on the Bible.
His work produced its effect. The impulse which it gave had much to do with arousing a new generation of English, Scotch, and American scholars. That a new epoch had come was now more and more evident, and out of the many proofs of this we may note two of the most striking.
For many years the Bampton Lectures at Oxford had been considered as adding steadily and strongly to the bulwarks of the old orthodoxy. If now and then orthodoxy had appeared in danger from such additions to the series as those made by Dr. Hampden, these lectures had been, as a rule, saturated with the older traditions of the Anglican Church. But now there came an evident change. The departures from the old paths became many and striking, until at last, in 1893, came the lectures on Inspiration by the Rev. Dr. Sanday, Ireland Professor of Exegesis in the University of Oxford. In these, concessions were made to the newer criticism, which at an earlier time would have driven the lecturer not only out of the Church but out of any decent position in society; for Prof. Sanday not merely gave up a vast mass of the other ideas which the great body of churchmen had regarded as fundamental, but accepted a number of conclusions established by the newer criticism. He declared that Kuenen and Wellhausen had mapped out, on the whole rightly, the main stages of development in the history of Hebrew literature; he incorporated with approval the work of other eminent heretics; he acknowledged that very many statements in the Pentateuch show "the naïve ideas and usages of a primitive age." But, most important of all, he gave up the whole question in regard to the book of Daniel. Up to a time then very recent, the early authorship and predictive character of the book of Daniel were things which no one was allowed to dispute for a moment. Pusey, as we have seen, had proved to the controlling parties in the English Church that Christianity must stand or fall with the traditional view of this book; and now, within a few years of Pusey 's death, there came in his own university, speaking from the pulpit of St. Mary's, whence he had so often insisted upon the absolute necessity of maintaining the older view, this professor of biblical criticism, a doctor of divinity, showing conclusively as regards the book of Daniel that the critical view had won the day; that the name of Daniel is only assumed; that the book is in no sense predictive, but was written, mainly at least, after the events it describes; that "its author lived at the time of the Maccabean struggle"; that it is very inaccurate even in the simple facts which it cites; and hence that all the vast fabric erected upon its predictive character is baseless.
But another evidence of the coming in of a new epoch was even more striking.
To uproot every growth of the newer thought, to destroy even every germ that had been planted by Colenso and men like him, a special movement was begun, of which the most important part was the establishment at the University of Oxford of a college which should bring the old opinion with crushing force against the new thought, and should train up a body of young men by feeding them upon the utterances of the fathers, of the mediæval doctors, and of the apologists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and should keep them in happy ignorance of the reforming spirit of the sixteenth and the scientific spirit of the nineteenth century.
The new college thus founded bore the name of the poet most widely beloved among high churchmen; large endowments flowed in upon it; a showy chapel was erected in accordance throughout with the strictest rules of mediæval ecclesiology. As if to strike the keynote of the thought to be fostered in the new institution, one of the most beautiful of pseudo-mediæval pictures was given the place of honor in its hall, and the college, lofty and gaudy, loomed high above the neighboring modest abode of Oxford science. Kuenen might rage in Holland, and Wellhausen in Germany, and Robertson Smith in Scotland—even Professors Driver, Sanday, and Cheyne might succeed Dr. Pusey as expounders of the Old Testament at Oxford—but Keble College, rejoicing in the favor of a multitude of leaders in the Church, including Mr. Gladstone, seemed an inexpugnable fortress of the older thought.
But in 1889 appeared the book of essays entitled Lux Mundi, among whose leading authors were men closely connected with Keble College and with the movement which had created it. This work gave up entirely the tradition that the narrative in Genesis is a historical record, and admitted that all accounts in the Hebrew Scriptures of events before the time of Abraham are mythical and legendary; it conceded that the books ascribed to Moses and Joshua were made up mainly of three documents representing different periods, and one of them the late period of the exile; that "there is a considerable idealizing element in Old Testament history"; that "the books of Chronicles show an idealizing of history" and "a reading back into past records of a ritual development which is really later," and that prophecy is not necessarily predictive—"prophetic inspiration being consistent with erroneous anticipations." Again a shudder went through the upholders of tradition in the Church, and here and there threats were heard; but the Essays and Reviews fiasco and the Colenso catastrophe were still in vivid remembrance. Good sense prevailed, and Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, instead of prosecuting the authors, himself asked the famous question, "May not the Holy Spirit make use of myth and legend?"
In the sister university the same tendency was seen. Robertson Smith, who had been driven out of his high position in the Free Church of Scotland on account of his work in scriptural research, was welcomed into a professorship at Cambridge, and other men, no less loyal to the new truths, were given places of controlling influence in shaping the thought of the new generation.
Nor did the warfare against biblical science produce any different results among the dissenters of England. In 1862 Samuel Davidson, a professor in the Congregational College at Manchester, published his Introduction to the Old Testament. Independently of the contemporary writers of Essays and Reviews, he had arrived in a general way at conclusions much like theirs, and he presented the newer view with fearless honesty, admitting that the same research must be applied to these as to other Oriental sacred books, and that such research establishes the fact that all alike contain legendary and mythical elements. A storm was at once aroused; certain denominational papers took up the matter, and Davidson was driven from his professorial chair; but he labored bravely on, and others followed to take up his work, until the ideas which he had advocated were fully considered.
So, too, in Scotland the work of Robertson Smith was continued even after he had been driven into England, and, as votaries of the older thought passed away, men of ideas akin to his were gradually elected into chairs of biblical criticism and interpretation. Wellhausen's great work, which Smith had introduced in English form, proved a power both in England and Scotland, and the articles upon various books of Scripture and scriptural subjects generally, in the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, having been prepared mainly by himself as editor or put into the hands of others representing the recent critical research, this very important work of reference, which had been in previous editions so timid, was now arrayed on the side of the newer thought, insuring its due consideration wherever the English language is spoken.
In France the same tendency was seen, though with striking variations from the course of events in other countries—variations due to the very different conditions under which biblical students in France were obliged to work. Down to the middle of the nineteenth century the orthodoxy of Bossuet, stiffly opposing the letter of Scripture to every step in the advance of science, had only yielded in a very slight degree. But then came an event ushering in a new epoch. At that time Jules Simon, afterward so eminent as an author, academician, and statesman, was quietly discharging the duties of a professorship, when there was brought to him one day the visiting card of a stranger bearing the name of "Ernest Renan, Student at St. Sulpice." Admitted to M. Simon's library, Renan told his story. As a theological student, even before he entered the seminary, he had devoted himself most earnestly to the study of Hebrew and the Semitic languages, and he was now obliged, during the lectures on biblical literature at St. Sulpice, to hear the reverend professor make frequent comments upon the Scriptures, based on the Vulgate, but absolutely disproved by Kenan's own knowledge of Hebrew. On Renan's questioning any interpretation of the lecturer, the latter was wont to rejoin: "Monsieur, do you presume to deny the authority of the Vulgate, the translation by St. Jerome, sanctioned by the Holy Ghost and the Church? You will at once go into the chapel and say 'Hail Mary' for an hour before the image of the Blessed Virgin." "But," said Renan to Jules Simon, "this has now become very serious; it happens nearly every day, and, mon Dieu! monsieur, I can not spend all my time in saying 'Hail Mary' before the statue of the Virgin." The result was a warm personal attachment between Simon and Renan; both were Bretons, educated in the midst of the most orthodox influences, and both had unwillingly broken away from them.
Renan was now emancipated and pursued his studies with such effect that he was made professor at the Collége de France. His Life of Jesus, and other books showing the same spirit, brought a tempest upon him which drove him from his professorship and brought great hardships upon him for many years. But his genius carried the day, and, to the honor of the French Republic, he was restored to the position from which the Empire had driven him. From his pen finally appeared the Histoire du Peuple Israel, in which scholarship broad, though at times inaccurate in minor details, was supplemented by an exquisite acutenes and a poetic insight which far more than made good any of those lesser errors which a German student would have avoided. At his death, in October, 1892, this monumental work had been finished; in clearness and beauty of style it has never been approached by any other treatise on this or any kindred subject. It is a work of genius, and its profound insight into all that is of importance in the great subjects which he treated will doubtless cause it to hold a permanent place in the literature not only of the Latin nations but of the world.
The anathemas lavished upon him by Church authorities during his life, their denial to him of Christian burial, and their refusal to allow him a grave in the place he had chosen, only increased popular affection for him during his last years and deepened the general mourning at his death.
But, in spite of all resistance, the desire for more light upon the sacred books penetrated the older Church from every side.
In Germany, toward the close of the eighteenth century, Jahn, Catholic professor at Vienna, had ventured, in an Introduction to Old Testament Study, to class Job, Jonah, and Tobit below other canonical books, and had only escaped serious difficulties by ample amends in a second edition.
Early in the nineteenth century, Herbst, Catholic professor at Tübingen, had endeavored in a similar Introduction to bring more modern research to bear on the older view; but the Church authorities saw that all passages really giving any new light were skillfully and speedily edited out of the book.
Later still, Movers, professor at Breslau, showed remarkable gifts for Old Testament research, and much was expected of him; but his ecclesiastical superiors quietly prevented his publishing any extended work.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century much the same pressure has continued in Catholic Germany. Strong scholars have very generally been drawn into the position of "apologists," and, when this has been found impossible, they have been driven out of the Church.
The same general policy had been evident in France and Italy, but toward the last decade of the century it was seen by the more clear-sighted supporters of the older Church in those countries that the multifarious "refutations" and explosive attacks upon Renan and his teachings had accomplished nothing; that even special services of atonement for his sin, like the famous "Triduo" at Florence, only drew a few women and provoked ridicule among the public at large; that throwing him out of his professorship and calumniating him had but increased his influence; and that his brilliant intuitions, added to the careful researches of German and English scholars, had brought the thinking world beyond the reach of the old methods of hiding troublesome truths and crushing persistent truth-tellers.
Therefore it was that about 1890 a body of earnest Roman Catholic scholars began very cautiously to examine and explain the biblical text in the light of those results of the newer research which could no longer be gainsaid.
Among these men were, in Italy, Canon Bartolo, Canon Berta,
and Father Savi, and in France Mon seigneur d'Hulst, the Abbé Loisy, Professor at the Roman Catholic University at Paris, and, most eminent of all, Professor Lenormant, of the French Institute, whose researches into biblical and other ancient history and literature had won him distinction throughout the world. These men, while standing up manfully for the Church, were obliged to allow that some of the conclusions of modern biblical criticism were well founded. The result came rapidly. The treatise of Bartolo and the great work of Lenormant were placed on the Index; Canon Berta was overwhelmed with reproaches and virtually silenced; the Abbé Loisy was first deprived of his professorship, and then ignominiously expelled from the university; Monseigneur d'Hulst was summoned to Rome, and has since kept silence.
The matter was evidently thought serious in the higher regions of the Church, for, in November, 1893, appeared an encyclical letter on The Study of Sacred Scripture by the reigning Pope, Leo XIII. Much was expected from it, for, since Benedict XIV in the last century, there has sat on the papal throne no Pope intellectually so competent to discuss the whole subject. While, then, those devoted to the older beliefs trusted that the papal thunderbolts would crush the whole brood of biblical critics, votaries of the newer thought ventured to hope that the encyclical might, in the language of one of them, prove "a stupendous bridge spanning the broad abyss that now divides alleged orthodoxy from established science."
Both these expectations were disappointed; and yet, on the whole, it is a question whether the world at large may not congratulate itself upon this papal utterance. The document, if not apostolic, won credit as "statesmanlike." It took pains, of course, to insist that there can be no error of any sort in the sacred books; it even defended those parts which Protestants count apocryphal as thoroughly as the remainder of Scripture, and declared that the book of Tobit was not compiled of man, but written by God. His Holiness naturally condemned the higher criticism, but he dwelt at the same time on the necessity of the most thorough study of the sacred Scriptures, and especially on the importance of adjusting scriptural statements to scientific facts. This utterance was admirably oracular, being susceptible of cogent quotation by both sides; nothing could be in better form from an orthodox point of view; but, with that statesmanlike forecast which the present Pope has shown more than once in steering the bark of St. Peter over the troubled waves of the nineteenth century, he so far abstained from condemning any of the greater specific results of modern critical study that the main English defender of the encyclical, the Jesuit Father Clarke, did not hesitate publicly to admit a multitude of such results—results, indeed, which would shock not only Italian and Spanish Catholics, but many English and American Protestants. According to this interpreter, the Pope had no thought of denying that there are different sorts of documents in the Pentateuch, or the plurality of sources of the books of Samuel, or the twofold authorship of Isaiah, or that all after the ninth verse of the last chapter of St. Mark's Gospel is spurious; and, as regards the whole encyclical, the distinguished Jesuit dwelt significantly on the power of the papacy at any time to define out of existence any previous decisions which may be found inconvenient. More than that, Father Clarke himself, while standing as the champion of the most thorough orthodoxy, acknowledged that, in the Old Testament, "numbers must be expected to be used Orientally," and that "all these seventies and forties, as, for example, when Absalom is said to have rebelled against David for forty years, can not possibly be meant numerically"; and, what must have given a fearful shock to some Protestant believers in plenary inspiration, he, while advocating it as a dutiful son of the Church, wove over it an exquisite web with the declaration that "there is a human element in the Bible precalculated for by the divine."
Considering the difficulties in the case, the world has reason certainly to be grateful to Pope Leo and Father Clarke for these utterances, which perhaps, after all, may prove a better bridge between the old and the new than could have been framed by engineers more learned but less astute. Evidently Pope Leo XIII is neither a Paul V nor an Urban VIII, and is too wise to bring the Church into a position from which it can only be extricated by subterfuges as ludicrous as those by which it was dragged out of the Galileo scandal, or by a policy as tortuous as that by which it writhed out of the old doctrine regarding the taking of interest for money.
In spite, then, of the attempted crushing out of Bartolo and Berta and Savi and Lenormant and Loisy, during this very epoch in which the Pope issued this encyclical, there is every reason to hope that the path has been paved over which the Church may gracefully recede from the old system of interpretation and quietly accept and appropriate the main results of the higher criticism. Certainly she has never had a better opportunity to play at the game of "beggar my neighbor" and to drive the older Protestant orthodoxy into bankruptcy.
In America the same struggle between the old ideas and the new went on. In the middle years of the century the first adequate effort in behalf of the newer conception of the sacred books was made by Theodore Parker at Boston. A thinker profound and of the widest range—a scholar indefatigable and of the deepest sympathies with humanity—a man called by one of the most eminent scholars in the English Church "a religious Titan," and by a distinguished French theologian "a prophet," he had struggled on from the divinity school until at that time he was the foremost biblical scholar and preacher to the largest regular congregation on the American continent. The great hall in Boston could seat four thousand people, and at his regular discourses every part of it was filled. In addition to his usual pastoral work he exercised a vast influence as a platform speaker, especially in opposition to the extension of slavery into the Territories of the United States, and as a lecturer on a wide range of vital topics. During each year at that period he was heard discussing the most important religious and political questions in all the greater northern cities; but his most lasting work was in throwing light upon our sacred Scriptures, and in this he was one of the forerunners of the movement now going on, not only in the United States but throughout Christendom. Even before he was fairly out of college his translation of De Wette's Introduction to the Old Testament made an impression on many thoughtful men; his sermon in 1841 on The Transient and Permanent in Christianity marked the beginning of his great individual career; his speeches, his Lectures, and especially his Discourse on Matters Pertaining to Religion, greatly extended his influence. His was a deeply devotional nature, and his public prayers exercised by their touching beauty a very strong religious influence upon his audiences. He had his reward. Beautiful and noble as were his life and his life work, he was widely abhorred. On one occasion of public worship, in one of the more orthodox churches, news having been received that he was dangerously ill, a prayer was openly made by one of the zealous brethren present that this arch-enemy might be removed from earth. He was even driven out from the Unitarian body. But he was none the less steadfast and bold, and the great mass of men and women who thronged his audience room at Boston and his lecture rooms in other cities spread his ideas. His fate was pathetic. Full of faith and hope, but broken prematurely by his labors, he retired to Italy, and there died at the darkest period in the history of the United States, when slavery in the State and the older orthodoxy in the Church seemed absolutely and forever triumphant. The death of Moses within sight of the promised land seems the only parallel to the death of Parker less than six months before the election of Abraham Lincoln and the publication of Essays and Reviews.
But here it must be noted that Parker's effort was powerfully aided by the conscientious utterances of some of his foremost opponents. Nothing during the American struggle against the slave system did more to wean religious and God-fearing men and women from the old interpretation of Scripture than the use of it to justify slavery. Typical among examples of this use were the arguments of Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont, a man whose noble character and beautiful culture gave him very wide influence in all branches of the American Protestant Church. While avowing his personal dislike to slavery, he demonstrated that the Bible sanctioned it. Other theologians, Catholic and Protestant, took the same ground, and then came that tremendous rejoinder which echoed from heart to heart throughout the Northern States: "The Bible sanctions slavery? So much the worse for the Bible." Then was fulfilled that old saying of Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg: "Press not the breasts of Holy Writ too hard, lest they yield blood rather than milk."
Yet throughout Christendom a change in the mode of interpreting Scripture, though absolutely necessary if its proper authority was to be maintained, still seemed almost hopeless. Even after the foremost scholars had taken ground in favor of it, and the most conservative of these whose opinions were entitled to weight had made concessions showing the old ground to be untenable, there was fanatical opposition to any change. The Syllabus of Errors, issued by Pius IX in 1864, as well as certain other documents issued from the Vatican, had increased the difficulties of this needed transition; and, while the more able-minded Roman Catholic scholars skillfully explained away the obstacles thus created, others published works insisting upon the most extreme views as to the verbal inspiration of the sacred books. In the Church of England various influential men took the same view. Dr. Baylee, Principal of St. Aidan's College, declared that in Scripture "every scientific statement is infallibly accurate; all its histories and narrations of every kind are without any inaccuracy. Its words and phrases have a grammatical and philological accuracy, such as is possessed by no human composition." In 1861 Dean Burgon preached in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, as follows: "No, sirs, the Bible is the very utterance of the Eternal; as much God's own word as if high heaven were open and we heard God speaking to us with human voice. Every book is inspired alike, and is inspired entirely. Inspiration is not a difference of degree, but of kind. The Bible is filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit of God; the books of it and the words of it and the very letters of it."
In 1805 Canon MacNeile declared in Exeter Hall that "we must either receive the verbal inspiration of the Old Testament or deny the veracity, the insight, the integrity of our Lord Jesus Christ as a teacher of divine truth."
As late as 1889 one of the two most gifted pulpit orators in the Church of England, Canon Liddon, preaching at St. Paul's Cathedral, used in his fervor the same dangerous argument: that the authority of Christ himself, and therefore of Christianity, must rest on the old view of the Old Testament; that, since the founder of Christianity, in divinely recorded utterances, alluded to the transformation of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt, and to Noah's ark and the-flood, the biblical account of these must be accepted as historical.
In the light of what was rapidly becoming known regarding the Chaldæan and other sources of the accounts given in Genesis, no argument could be more fraught with peril to the interest which the gifted preacher sought to serve.
In France and Germany many similar utterances in opposition to the newer biblical studies were heard, and from America, especially from the college at Princeton, came resounding echoes. As an example of many may be quoted the statement by the eminent Dr. Hodge that the books of Scripture "are, one and all, in thought and verbal expression, in substance, and in form, wholly the work of God, conveying with absolute accuracy and divine authority all that God meant to convey without human additions and admixtures"; and that "infallibility and authority attach as much to the verbal expression in which the revelation is made as to the matter of the revelation itself."
But the newer movement of thought went steadily on. As already in Protestant Europe, so now in the Protestant churches of America, it took strong hold on the foremost minds in many of the churches known as orthodox: Toy, Briggs, Francis Brown, Evans, Preserved Smith, Moore, Bacon, developed it, and, though opposed, bitterly by synods and councils of their respective churches, they were manfully supported by the more intellectual clergy and laity. The greater universities of the country ranged