HotFreeBooks.com
Collected Essays, Volume V - Science and Christian Tradition: Essays
by T. H. Huxley
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

COLLECTED ESSAYS; VOLUME V

SCIENCE AND CHRISTIAN TRADITION

BY THOMAS H. HUXLEY

NEW YORK, D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, 1902



PREFACE

"For close upon forty years I have been writing with one purpose; from time to time, I have fought for that which seemed to me the truth, perhaps still more, against that which I have thought error; and, in this way, I have reached, indeed over-stepped, the threshold of old age. There, every earnest man has to listen to the voice within: 'Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward.'

"That I have been an unjust steward my conscience does not bear witness. At times blundering, at times negligent, Heaven knows: but, on the whole, I have done that which I felt able and called upon to do; and I have done it without looking to the right or to the left; seeking no man's favor, fearing no man's disfavor.

"But what is it that I have been doing? In the end one's conceptions should form a whole, though only parts may have found utterance, as occasion arose; now do these exhibit harmony and mutual connexion? In one's zeal much of the old gets broken to pieces; but has one made ready something new, fit to be set in the place of the old?

"That they merely destroy without reconstructing, is the especial charge, with which those who work in this direction are constantly reproached. In a certain sense I do not defend myself against the charge; but I deny that any reproach is deserved.

"I have never proposed to myself to begin outward construction; because I do not believe that the time has come for it. Our present business is with inward preparation, especially the preparation of those who have ceased to be content with the old, and find no satisfaction in half measures. I have wished, and I still wish, to disturb no man's peace of mind, no man's beliefs; but only to point out to those in whom they are already shattered, the direction in which, in my conviction, firmer ground lies."[1]

So wrote one of the protagonists of the New Reformation—and a well-abused man if ever there was one—a score of years since, in the remarkable book in which he discusses the negative and the positive results of the rigorous application of scientific method to the investigation of the higher problems of human life.

Recent experience leads me to imagine that there may be a good many countrymen of my own, even at this time, to whom it may be profitable to read, mark and inwardly digest, the weighty words of the author of that "Leben Jesu," which, half a century ago, stirred the religious world so seriously that it has never settled down again quite on the old foundations; indeed, some think it never will. I have a personal interest in the carrying out of the recommendation I venture to make. It may enable many worthy persons, in whose estimation I should really be glad to stand higher than I do, to become aware of the possibility that my motives in writing the essays, contained in this and the preceding volume, were not exactly those that they ascribe to me.

I too have reached the term at which the still, small voice, more audible than any other to the dulled ear of age, makes its demand; and I have found that it is of no sort of use to try to cook the accounts rendered. Nevertheless, I distinctly decline to admit some of the items charged; more particularly that of having "gone out of my way" to attack the Bible; and I as steadfastly deny that "hatred of Christianity" is a feeling with which I have any acquaintance. There are very few things which I find it permissible to hate; and though, it may be, that some of the organisations, which arrogate to themselves the Christian name, have richly earned a place in the category of hateful things, that ought to have nothing to do with one's estimation of the religion, which they have perverted and disfigured out of all likeness to the original.

The simple fact is that, as I have already more than once hinted, my story is that of the wolf and the lamb over again. I have never "gone out of my way" to attack the Bible, or anything else: it was the dominant ecclesiasticism of my early days, which, as I believe, without any warrant from the Bible itself, thrust the book in my way.

I had set out on a journey, with no other purpose than that of exploring a certain province of natural knowledge; I strayed no hair's breadth from the course which it was my right and my duty to pursue; and yet I found that, whatever route I took, before long, I came to a tall and formidable-looking fence. Confident as I might be in the existence of an ancient and indefeasible right of way, before me stood the thorny barrier with its comminatory notice-board—"No Thoroughfare. By order. Moses." There seemed no way over; nor did the prospect of creeping round, as I saw some do, attract me. True there was no longer any cause to fear the spring guns and man-traps set by former lords of the manor; but one is apt to get very dirty going on all-fours. The only alternatives were either to give up my journey—which I was not minded to do—or to break the fence down and go through it.

Now I was and am, by nature, a law-abiding person, ready and willing to submit to all legitimate authority. But I also had and have a rooted conviction, that reasonable assurance of the legitimacy should precede the submission; so I made it my business to look up the manorial title-deeds. The pretensions of the ecclesiastical "Moses" to exercise a control over the operations of the reasoning faculty in the search after truth, thirty centuries after his age, might be justifiable; but, assuredly, the credentials produced in justification of claims so large required careful scrutiny.

Singular discoveries rewarded my industry. The ecclesiastical "Moses" proved to be a mere traditional mask, behind which, no doubt, lay the features of the historical Moses—just as many a mediaeval fresco has been hidden by the whitewash of Georgian churchwardens. And as the aesthetic rector too often scrapes away the defacement, only to find blurred, parti-coloured patches, in which the original design is no longer to be traced; so, when the successive layers of Jewish and Christian traditional pigment, laid on, at intervals, for near three thousand years, had been removed, by even the tenderest critical operations, there was not much to be discerned of the leader of the Exodus.

Only one point became perfectly clear to me, namely, that Moses is not responsible for nine-tenths of the Pentateuch; certainly not for the legends which had been made the bugbears of science. In fact, the fence turned out to be a mere heap of dry sticks and brushwood, and one might walk through it with impunity: the which I did. But I was still young, when I thus ventured to assert my liberty; and young people are apt to be filled with a kind of saeva indignatio, when they discover the wide discrepancies between things as they seem and things as they are. It hurts their vanity to feel that they have prepared themselves for a mighty struggle to climb over, or break their way through, a rampart, which turns out, on close approach, to be a mere heap of ruins; venerable, indeed, and archaeologically interesting, but of no other moment. And some fragment of the superfluous energy accumulated is apt to find vent in strong language.

Such, I suppose, was my case, when I wrote some passages which occur in an essay reprinted among "Darwiniana."[2] But when, not long ago "the voice" put it to me, whether I had better not expunge, or modify, these passages; whether, really, they were not a little too strong; I had to reply, with all deference, that while, from a merely literary point of view, I might admit them to be rather crude, I must stand by the substance of these items of my expenditure. I further ventured to express the conviction that scientific criticism of the Old Testament, since 1860, has justified every word of the estimate of the authority of the ecclesiastical "Moses" written at that time. And, carried away by the heat of self-justification, I even ventured to add, that the desperate attempt now set afoot to force biblical and post-biblical mythology into elementary instruction, renders it useful and necessary to go on making a considerable outlay in the same direction. Not yet, has "the cosmogony of the semi-barbarous Hebrew" ceased to be the "incubus of the philosopher, and the opprobrium of the orthodox;" not yet, has "the zeal of the Bibliolater" ceased from troubling; not yet, are the weaker sort, even of the instructed, at rest from their fruitless toil "to harmonise impossibilities," and "to force the generous new wine of science into the old bottles of Judaism."

But I am aware that the head and front of my offending lies not now where it formerly lay. Thirty years ago, criticism of "Moses" was held by most respectable people to be deadly sin; now it has sunk to the rank of a mere peccadillo; at least, if it stops short of the history of Abraham. Destroy the foundation of most forms of dogmatic Christianity contained in the second chapter of Genesis, if you will; the new ecclesiasticism undertakes to underpin the superstructure and make it, at any rate to the eye, as firm as ever: but let him be anathema who applies exactly the same canons of criticism to the opening chapters of "Matthew" or of "Luke." School-children may be told that the world was by no means made in six days, and that implicit belief in the story of Noah's Ark is permissible only, as a matter of business, to their toy-makers; but they are to hold for the certainest of truths, to be doubted only at peril of their salvation, that their Galilean fellow-child Jesus, nineteen centuries ago, had no human father.

* * * * *

Well, we will pass the item of 1860, said "the voice." But why all this more recent coil about the Gadarene swine and the like? Do you pretend that these poor animals got in your way, years and years after the "Mosaic" fences were down, at any rate so far as you are concerned?

Got in my way? Why, my good "voice," they were driven in my way. I had happened to make a statement, than which, so far as I have ever been able to see, nothing can be more modest or inoffensive; to wit, that I am convinced of my own utter ignorance about a great number of things, respecting which the great majority of my neighbours (not only those of adult years, but children repeating their catechisms) affirm themselves to possess full information. I ask any candid and impartial judge, Is that attacking anybody or anything?

Yet, if I had made the most wanton and arrogant onslaught on the honest convictions of other people, I could not have been more hardly dealt with. The pentecostal charism, I believe, exhausted itself amongst the earliest disciples. Yet any one who has had to attend, as I have done, to copious objurgations, strewn with such appellations as "infidel" and "coward," must be a hardened sceptic indeed if he doubts the existence of a "gift of tongues" in the Churches of our time; unless, indeed, it should occur to him that some of these outpourings may have taken place after "the third hour of the day." I am far from thinking that it is worth while to give much attention to these inevitable incidents of all controversies, in which one party has acquired the mental peculiarities which are generated by the habit of much talking, with immunity from criticism. But as a rule, they are the sauce of dishes of misrepresentations and inaccuracies which it may be a duty, nay, even an innocent pleasure, to expose. In the particular case of which I am thinking, I felt, as Strauss says, "able and called upon" to undertake the business: and it is no responsibility of mine, if I found the Gospels, with their miraculous stories, of which the Gadarene is a typical example, blocking my way, as heretofore, the Pentateuch had done.

I was challenged to question the authority for the theory of "the spiritual world," and the practical consequences deducible from human relations to it, contained in these documents.

In my judgment, the actuality of this spiritual world—the value of the evidence for its objective existence and its influence upon the course of things—are matters, which lie as much within the province of science, as any other question about the existence and powers of the varied forms of living and conscious activity.

It really is my strong conviction that a man has no more right to say he believes this world is haunted by swarms of evil spirits, without being able to produce satisfactory evidence of the fact, than he has a right to say, without adducing adequate proof, that the circumpolar antarctic ice swarms with sea-serpents. I should not like to assert positively that it does not. I imagine that no cautious biologist would say as much; but while quite open to conviction, he might properly decline to waste time upon the consideration of talk, no better accredited than forecastle "yarns," about such monsters of the deep. And if the interests of ordinary veracity dictate this course, in relation to a matter of so little consequence as this, what must be our obligations in respect of the treatment of a question which is fundamental alike for science and for ethics? For not only does our general theory of the universe and of the nature of the order which pervades it, hang upon the answer; but the rules of practical life must be deeply affected by it.

The belief in a demonic world is inculcated throughout the Gospels and the rest of the books of the New Testament; it pervades the whole patristic literature; it colours the theory and the practice of every Christian church down to modern times. Indeed, I doubt if, even now, there is any church which, officially, departs from such a fundamental doctrine of primitive Christianity as the existence, in addition to the Cosmos with which natural knowledge is conversant, of a world of spirits; that is to say, of intelligent agents, not subject to the physical or mental limitations of humanity, but nevertheless competent to interfere, to an undefined extent, with the ordinary course of both physical and mental phenomena.

More especially is this conception fundamental for the authors of the Gospels. Without the belief that the present world, and particularly that part of it which is constituted by human society, has been given over, since the Fall, to the influence of wicked and malignant spiritual beings, governed and directed by a supreme devil—the moral antithesis and enemy of the supreme God—their theory of salvation by the Messiah falls to pieces. "To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."[3]

The half-hearted religiosity of latter-day Christianity may choose to ignore the fact; but it remains none the less true, that he who refuses to accept the demonology of the Gospels rejects the revelation of a spiritual world, made in them, as much as if he denied the existence of such a person as Jesus of Nazareth; and deserves, as much as any one can do, to be ear-marked "infidel" by our gentle shepherds.

* * * * *

Now that which I thought it desirable to make perfectly clear, on my own account, and for the sake of those who find their capacity of belief in the Gospel theory of the universe failing them, is the fact, that, in my judgment, the demonology of primitive Christianity is totally devoid of foundation; and that no man, who is guided by the rules of investigation which are found to lead to the discovery of truth in other matters, not merely of science, but in the everyday affairs of life, will arrive at any other conclusion. To those who profess to be otherwise guided, I have nothing to say; but to beg them to go their own way and leave me to mine.

I think it may be as well to repeat what I have said, over and over again, elsewhere, that a priori notions, about the possibility, or the impossibility, of the existence of a world of spirits, such as that presupposed by genuine Christianity, have no influence on my mind. The question for me is purely one of evidence: is the evidence adequate to bear out the theory, or is it not? In my judgment it is not only inadequate, but quite absurdly insufficient. And on that ground, I should feel compelled to reject the theory; even if there were no positive grounds for adopting a totally different conception of the Cosmos.

For most people, the question of the evidence of the existence of a demonic world, in the long run, resolves itself into that of the trustworthiness of the Gospels; first, as to the objective truth of that which they narrate on this topic; second, as to the accuracy of the interpretation which their authors put upon these objective facts. For example, with respect to the Gadarene miracle, it is one question whether, at a certain time and place, a raving madman became sane, and a herd of swine rushed into the lake of Tiberias; and quite another, whether the cause of these occurrences was the transmigration of certain devils from the man into the pigs. And again, it is one question whether Jesus made a long oration on a certain occasion, mentioned in the first Gospel; altogether another, whether more or fewer of the propositions contained in the "Sermon on the Mount" were uttered on that occasion. One may give an affirmative answer to one of each of these pairs of questions and a negative to the other: one may affirm all, or deny all.

In considering the historical value of any four documents, proof when they were written and who wrote them is, no doubt, highly important. For if proof exists, that A B C and D wrote them, and that they were intelligent persons, writing independently and without prejudice, about facts within their own knowledge—their statements must needs be worthy of the most attentive consideration.[4] But, even ecclesiastical tradition does not assert that either "Mark" or "Luke" wrote from his own knowledge—indeed "Luke" expressly asserts he did not. I cannot discover that any competent authority now maintains that the apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel which passes under his name. And whether the apostle John had, or had not, anything to do with the fourth Gospel; and if he had, what his share amounted to; are, as everybody who has attended to these matters knows, questions still hotly disputed, and with regard to which the extant evidence can hardly carry an impartial judge beyond the admission of a possibility this way or that.

Thus, nothing but a balancing of very dubious probabilities is to be attained by approaching the question from this side. It is otherwise if we make the documents tell their own story: if we study them, as we study fossils, to discover internal evidence, of when they arose, and how they have come to be. That really fruitful line of inquiry has led to the statement and the discussion of what is known as the Synoptic Problem.

In the Essays (VII.—XI.) which deal with the consequences of the application of the agnostic principle to Christian Evidences, contained in this volume, there are several references to the results of the attempts which have been made, during the last hundred years, to solve this problem. And, though it has been clearly stated and discussed, in works accessible to, and intelligible by, every English reader,[5] it may be well that I should here set forth a very brief exposition of the matters of fact out of which the problem has arisen; and of some consequences, which, as I conceive, must be admitted if the facts are accepted.

These undisputed and, apparently, indisputable data may be thus stated:

I. The three books of which an ancient, but very questionable, ecclesiastical tradition asserts Matthew, Mark, and Luke to be the authors, agree, not only in presenting the same general view, or Synopsis, of the nature and the order of the events narrated; but, to a remarkable extent, the very words which they employ coincide.

II. Nevertheless, there are many equally marked, and some irreconcilable, differences between them. Narratives, verbally identical in some portions, diverge more or less in others. The order in which they occur in one, or in two, Gospels may be changed in another. In "Matthew" and in "Luke" events of great importance make their appearance, where the story of "Mark" seems to leave no place for them; and, at the beginning and the end of the two former Gospels, there is a great amount of matter of which there is no trace in "Mark."

III. Obvious and highly important differences, in style and substance, separate the three "Synoptics," taken together, from the fourth Gospel, connected, by ecclesiastical tradition, with the name of the apostle John. In its philosophical proemium; in the conspicuous absence of exorcistic miracles; in the self-assertive theosophy of the long and diffuse monologues, which are so utterly unlike the brief and pregnant utterances of Jesus recorded in the Synoptics; in the assertion that the crucifixion took place before the Passover, which involves the denial, by implication, of the truth of the Synoptic story—to mention only a few particulars—the "Johannine" Gospel presents a wide divergence from the other three.

IV. If the mutual resemblances and differences of the Synoptic Gospels are closely considered, a curious result comes out; namely, that each may be analyzed into four components. The first of these consists of passages, to a greater or less extent verbally identical, which occur in all three Gospels. If this triple tradition is separated from the rest it will be found to comprise:

a. A narrative, of a somewhat broken and anecdotic aspect, which covers the period from the appearance of John the Baptist to the discovery of the emptiness of the tomb, on the first day of the week, some six-and-thirty hours after the crucifixion.

b. An apocalyptic address.

c. Parables and brief discourses, or rather, centos of religious and ethical exhortations and injunctions.

The second and the third set of components of each Gospel present equally close resemblances to passages, which are found in only one of the other Gospels; therefore it may be said that, for them, the tradition is double. The fourth component is peculiar to each Gospel; it is a single tradition and has no representative in the others.

To put the facts in another way: each Gospel is composed of a threefold tradition, two twofold traditions, and one peculiar tradition. If the Gospels were the work of totally independent writers, it would follow that there are three witnesses for the statements in the first tradition; two for each of those in the second, and only one for those in the third.

V. If the reader will now take up that extremely instructive little book, Abbott and Rushbrooke's "Common Tradition" he will easily satisfy himself that "Mark" has the remarkable structure just described. Almost the whole of this Gospel consists of the first component; namely, the threefold tradition. But in chap. i. 23-28 he will discover an exorcistic story, not to be found in "Matthew," but repeated, often word for word, in "Luke." This, therefore, belongs to one of the twofold traditions. In chap. viii. 1-10, on the other hand, there is a detailed account of the miracle of feeding the four thousand; which is closely repeated in "Matthew" xv. 32-39, but is not to be found in "Luke." This is an example of the other twofold tradition, possible in "Mark." Finally, the story of the blind man of Bethsaida, "Mark" viii. 22-26, is peculiar to "Mark."

VI. Suppose that, A standing for the threefold tradition, or the matter common to all three Gospels; we call the matter common to "Mark" and "Matthew" only—B; that common to "Mark" and "Luke" only—C; that common to "Matthew" and "Luke" only—D; while the peculiar components of "Mark," "Matthew," and "Luke" are severally indicated by E, F, G; then the structure of the Gospels may be represented thus:

Components of "Mark" = A + B + C + E. " "Matthew" = A + B + D + F. " "Luke" = A + C + D + G.

VII. The analysis of the Synoptic documents need be carried no further than this point, in order to suggest one extremely important, and, apparently unavoidable conclusion; and that is, that their authors were neither three independent witnesses of the things narrated; nor, for the parts of the narrative about which all agree, that is to say, the threefold tradition, did they employ independent sources of information. It is simply incredible that each of three independent witnesses of any series of occurrences should tell a story so similar, not only in arrangement and in small details, but in words, to that of each of the others.

Hence it follows, either that the Synoptic writers have, mediately or immediately, copied one from the other: or that the three have drawn from a common source; that is to say, from one arrangement of similar traditions (whether oral or written); though that arrangement may have been extant in three or more, somewhat different versions.

VIII. The suppositions (a) that "Mark" had "Matthew" and "Luke" before him; and (b) that either of the two latter was acquainted with the work of the other, would seem to involve some singular consequences.

a. The second Gospel is saturated with the lowest supernaturalism. Jesus is exhibited as a wonder-worker and exorcist of the first rank. The earliest public recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus comes from an "unclean spirit"; he himself is made to testify to the occurrence of the miraculous feeding twice over.

The purpose with which "Mark" sets out is to show forth Jesus as the Son of God, and it is suggested, if not distinctly stated, that he acquired this character at his baptism by John. The absence of any reference to the miraculous events of the infancy, detailed by "Matthew" and "Luke;" or to the appearances after the discovery of the emptiness of the tomb; is unintelligible, if "Mark" knew anything about them, or believed in the miraculous conception. The second Gospel is no summary: "Mark" can find room for the detailed story, irrelevant to his main purpose, of the beheading of John the Baptist, and his miraculous narrations are crowded with minute particulars. Is it to be imagined that, with the supposed apostolic authority of Matthew before him, he could leave out the miraculous conception of Jesus and the ascension? Further, ecclesiastical tradition would have us believe that Mark wrote down his recollections of what Peter taught. Did Peter then omit to mention these matters? Did the fact testified by the oldest authority extant, that the first appearance of the risen Jesus was to himself seem not worth mentioning? Did he really fail to speak of the great position in the Church solemnly assigned to him by Jesus? The alternative would seem to be the impeachment either of Mark's memory, or of his judgment. But Mark's memory, is so good that he can recollect how, on the occasion of the stilling of the waves, Jesus was asleep "on the cushion," he remembers that the woman with the issue had "spent all she had" on her physicians; that there was not room "even about the door" on a certain occasion at Capernaum. And it is surely hard to believe that "Mark" should have failed to recollect occurrences of infinitely greater moment, or that he should have deliberately left them out, as things not worthy of mention.

b. The supposition that "Matthew" was acquainted with "Luke," or "Luke" with "Matthew" has equally grave implications. If that be so, the one who used the other could have had but a poor opinion of his predecessor's historical veracity. If, as most experts agree, "Luke" is later than "Matthew," it is clear that he does not credit "Matthew's" account of the infancy; does not believe the "Sermon on the Mount" as given by Matthew was preached; does not believe in the two feeding miracles, to which Jesus himself is made to refer; wholly discredits "Matthew's" account of the events after the crucifixion; and thinks it not worth while to notice "Matthew's" grave admission that "some doubted."

IX. None of these troublesome consequences pursue the hypothesis that the threefold tradition, in one, or more, Greek versions, was extant before either of the canonical Synoptic Gospels; and that it furnished the fundamental framework of their several narratives. Where and when the threefold narrative arose, there is no positive evidence; though it is obviously probable that the traditions it embodies, and perhaps many others, took their rise in Palestine and spread thence to Asia Minor, Greece, Egypt and Italy, in the track of the early missionaries. Nor is it less likely that they formed part of the "didaskalia" of the primitive Nazarene and Christian communities.[6]

X. The interest which attaches to "Mark" arises from the fact that it seems to present this early, probably earliest, Greek Gospel narrative, with least addition, or modification. If, as appears likely from some internal evidences, it was compiled for the use of the Christian sodalities in Rome; and that it was accepted by them as an adequate account of the life and work of Jesus, it is evidence of the most valuable kind respecting their beliefs and the limits of dogma, as conceived by them.

In such case, a good Roman Christian of that epoch might know nothing of the doctrine of the incarnation, as taught by "Matthew" and "Luke"; still less of the "logos" doctrine of "John"; neither need he have believed anything more than the simple fact of the resurrection. It was open to him to believe it either corporeal or spiritual. He would never have heard of the power of the keys bestowed upon Peter; nor have had brought to his mind so much as a suggestion of trinitarian doctrine. He might be a rigidly monotheistic Judaeo-Christian, and consider himself bound by the law: he might be a Gentile Pauline convert, neither knowing of nor caring for such restrictions. In neither case would he find in "Mark" any serious stumbling-block. In fact, persons of all the categories admitted to salvation by Justin, in the middle of the second century,[7] could accept "Mark" from beginning to end. It may well be, that, in this wide adaptability, backed by the authority of the metropolitan church, there lies the reason for the fact of the preservation of "Mark," notwithstanding its limited and dogmatically colourless character, as compared with the Gospels of "Luke" and "Matthew."

XI. "Mark," as we have seen, contains a relatively small body of ethical and religious instruction and only a few parables. Were these all that existed in the primitive threefold tradition? Were none others current in the Roman communities, at the time "Mark" wrote, supposing he wrote in Rome? Or, on the other hand, was there extant, as early as the time at which "Mark" composed his Greek edition of the primitive Evangel, one or more collections of parables and teachings, such as those which form the bulk of the twofold tradition, common exclusively to "Matthew" and "Luke," and are also found in their single traditions? Many have assumed this, or these, collections to be identical with, or at any rate based upon, the "logia," of which ecclesiastical tradition says, that they were written in Aramaic by Matthew, and that everybody translated them as he could.

Here is the old difficulty again. If such materials were known to "Mark," what imaginable reason could he have for not using them? Surely displacement of the long episode of John the Baptist—even perhaps of the story of the Gadarene swine—by portions of the Sermon on the Mount or by one or two of the beautiful parables in the twofold and single traditions would have been great improvements; and might have been effected, even though "Mark" was as much pressed for space as some have imagined. But there is no ground for that imagination; Mark has actually found room for four or five parables; why should he not have given the best, if he had known of them? Admitting he was the mere pedissequus et breviator of Matthew, that even Augustine supposed him to be, what could induce him to omit the Lord's Prayer?

Whether more or less of the materials of the twofold tradition D, and of the peculiar traditions F and G, were or were not current in some of the communities, as early as, or perhaps earlier than, the triple tradition, it is not necessary for me to discuss; nor to consider those solutions of the Synoptic problem which assume that it existed earlier, and was already combined with more or less narrative. Those who are working out the final solution of the Synoptic problem are taking into account, more than hitherto, the possibility that the widely separated Christian communities of Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Italy, especially after the Jewish war of A.D. 66-70, may have found themselves in possession of very different traditional materials. Many circumstances tend to the conclusion that, in Asia Minor, even the narrative part of the threefold tradition had a formidable rival; and that, around this second narrative, teaching traditions of a totally different order from those in the Synoptics, grouped themselves; and, under the influence of converts imbued more or less with the philosophical speculations of the time, eventually took shape in the fourth Gospel and its associated literature.

XII. But it is unnecessary, and it would be out of place, for me to attempt to do more than indicate the existence of these complex and difficult questions. My purpose has been to make it clear that the Synoptic problem must force itself upon every one who studies the Gospels with attention; that the broad facts of the case, and some of the consequences deducible from these facts, are just as plain to the simple English reader as they are to the profoundest scholar.

One of these consequences is that the threefold tradition presents us with a narrative believed to be historically true, in all its particulars, by the major part, if not the whole, of the Christian communities. That narrative is penetrated, from beginning to end, by the demonological beliefs of which the Gadarene story is a specimen; and, if the fourth Gospel indicates the existence of another and, in some respects, irreconcilably divergent narrative, in which the demonology retires into the background, it is none the less there.

Therefore, the demonology is an integral and inseparable component of primitive Christianity. The farther back the origin of the gospels is dated, the stronger does the certainty of this conclusion grow; and the more difficult it becomes to suppose that Jesus himself may not have shared the superstitious beliefs of his disciples.

It further follows that those who accept devils, possession, and exorcism as essential elements of their conception of the spiritual world may consistently consider the testimony of the Gospels to be unimpeachable in respect of the information they give us respecting other matters which appertain to that world.

Those who reject the gospel demonology, on the other hand, would seem to be as completely barred, as I feel myself to be, from professing to take the accuracy of that information for granted. If the threefold tradition is wrong about one fundamental topic, it may be wrong about another, while the authority of the single traditions, often mutually contradictory as they are, becomes a vanishing quantity.

It really is unreasonable to ask any rejector of the demonology to say more with respect to those other matters, than that the statements regarding them may be true, or may be false; and that the ultimate decision, if it is to be favourable, must depend on the production of testimony of a very different character from that of the writers of the four gospels. Until such evidence is brought forward, that refusal of assent, with willingness to re-open the question, on cause shown, which is what I mean by Agnosticism, is, for me, the only course open.

* * * * *

A verdict of "not proven" is undoubtedly unsatisfactory and essentially provisional, so far forth as the subject of the trial is capable of being dealt with by due process of reason.

Those who are of opinion that the historical realities at the root of Christianity, lie beyond the jurisdiction of science, need not be considered. Those who are convinced that the evidence is, and must always remain, insufficient to support any definite conclusion, are justified in ignoring the subject. They must be content to put up with that reproach of being mere destroyers, of which Strauss speaks. They may say that there are so many problems which are and must remain insoluble, that the "burden of the mystery" "of all this unintelligible world" is not appreciably affected by one more or less.

For myself, I must confess that the problem of the origin of such very remarkable historical phenomena as the doctrines, and the social organization, which in their broad features certainly existed, and were in a state of rapid development, within a hundred years of the crucifixion of Jesus; and which have steadily prevailed against all rivals, among the most intelligent and civilized nations in the world ever since, is, and always has been, profoundly interesting; and, considering how recent the really scientific study of that problem, and how great the progress made during the last half century in supplying the conditions for a positive solution of the problem, I cannot doubt that the attainment of such a solution is a mere question of time.

I am well aware that it has lain far beyond my powers to take any share in this great undertaking. All that I can hope is to have done somewhat towards "the preparation of those who have ceased to be contented with the old and find no satisfaction in half measures": perhaps, also, something towards the lessening of that great proportion of my countrymen, whose eminent characteristic it is that they find "full satisfaction in half measures."

T.H.H. HODESLEA, EASTBOURNE, December 4th, 1893.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] D.F. Strauss, Der alte und der neue Glaube (1872), pp. 9, 10.

[2] Collected Essays, vol. ii., "On the Origin of Species" (1860).

[3] 1 John iii. 8.

[4] Not necessarily of more than this. A few centuries ago the twelve most intelligent and impartial men to be found in England, would have independently testified that the sun moves, from east to west, across the heavens every day.

[5] Nowhere more concisely and clearly than in Dr. Sutherland Black's article "Gospels" in Chambers's Encyclopaedia. References are given to the more elaborate discussions of the problem.

[6] Those who regard the Apocalyptic discourse as a "vaticination after the event" may draw conclusions therefrom as to the date of the Gospels in which its several forms occur. But the assumption is surely dangerous, from an apologetic point of view, since it begs the question as to the unhistorical character of this solemn prophecy.

[7] See p. 287 of this volume.



CONTENTS

PAGE I. PROLOGUE 1 (Controverted Questions, 1892).

II. SCIENTIFIC AND PSEUDO-SCIENTIFIC REALISM [1887] 59

III. SCIENCE AND PSEUDO-SCIENCE [1887] 90

IV. AN EPISCOPAL TRILOGY [1887] 126

V. THE VALUE OF WITNESS TO THE MIRACULOUS [1889] 160

VI. POSSIBILITIES AND IMPOSSIBILITIES [1891] 192

VII. AGNOSTICISM [1889] 209

VIII. AGNOSTICISM: A REJOINDER [1889] 263

IX. AGNOSTICISM AND CHRISTIANITY [1889] 309

X. THE KEEPERS OF THE HERD OF SWINE [1890] 366

XI. ILLUSTRATIONS OF MR. GLADSTONE'S CONTROVERSIAL METHODS [1891] 393



I: PROLOGUE

[Controverted Questions, 1892]

Le plus grand service qu'on puisse rendre a la science est d'y faire place nette avant d'y rien construire.—CUVIER.

Most of the Essays comprised in the present volume have been written during the last six or seven years, without premeditated purpose or intentional connection, in reply to attacks upon doctrines which I hold to be well founded; or in refutation of allegations respecting matters lying within the province of natural knowledge, which I believe to be erroneous; and they bear the mark of their origin in the controversial tone which pervades them.

Of polemical writing, as of other kinds of warfare, I think it may be said, that it is often useful, sometimes necessary, and always more or less of an evil. It is useful, when it attracts attention to topics which might otherwise be neglected; and when, as does sometimes happen, those who come to see a contest remain to think. It is necessary, when the interests of truth and of justice are at stake. It is an evil, in so far as controversy always tends to degenerate into quarrelling, to swerve from the great issue of what is right and what is wrong to the very small question of who is right and who is wrong. I venture to hope that the useful and the necessary were more conspicuous than the evil attributes of literary militancy, when these papers were first published; but I have had some hesitation about reprinting them. If I may judge by my own taste, few literary dishes are less appetising than cold controversy; moreover, there is an air of unfairness about the presentation of only one side of a discussion, and a flavour of unkindness in the reproduction of "winged words," which, however appropriate at the time of their utterance, would find a still more appropriate place in oblivion. Yet, since I could hardly ask those who have honoured me by their polemical attentions to confer lustre on this collection, by permitting me to present their lucubrations along with my own; and since it would be a manifest wrong to them to deprive their, by no means rare, vivacities of language of such justification as they may derive from similar freedoms on my part; I came to the conclusion that my best course was to leave the essays just as they were written;[8] assuring my honourable adversaries that any heat of which signs may remain was generated, in accordance with the law of the conservation of energy, by the force of their own blows, and has long since been dissipated into space.

But, however the polemical coincomitants of these discussions may be regarded—or better, disregarded—there is no doubt either about the importance of the topics of which they treat, or as to the public interest in the "Controverted Questions" with which they deal. Or rather, the Controverted Question; for disconnected as these pieces may, perhaps, appear to be, they are, in fact, concerned only with different aspects of a single problem, with which thinking men have been occupied, ever since they began seriously to consider the wonderful frame of things in which their lives are set, and to seek for trustworthy guidance among its intricacies.

Experience speedily taught them that the shifting scenes of the world's stage have a permanent background; that there is order amidst the seeming confusion, and that many events take place according to unchanging rules. To this region of familiar steadiness and customary regularity they gave the name of Nature. But, at the same time, their infantile and untutored reason, little more, as yet, than the playfellow of the imagination, led them to believe that this tangible, commonplace, orderly world of Nature was surrounded and interpenetrated by another intangible and mysterious world, no more bound by fixed rules than, as they fancied, were the thoughts and passions which coursed through their minds and seemed to exercise an intermittent and capricious rule over their bodies. They attributed to the entities, with which they peopled this dim and dreadful region, an unlimited amount of that power of modifying the course of events of which they themselves possessed a small share, and thus came to regard them as not merely beyond, but above, Nature.

Hence arose the conception of a "Supernature" antithetic to "Nature"—the primitive dualism of a natural world "fixed in fate" and a supernatural, left to the free play of volition—which has pervaded all later speculation and, for thousands of years, has exercised a profound influence on practice. For it is obvious that, on this theory of the Universe, the successful conduct of life must demand careful attention to both worlds; and, if either is to be neglected, it may be safer that it should be Nature. In any given contingency, it must doubtless be desirable to know what may be expected to happen in the ordinary course of things; but it must be quite as necessary to have some inkling of the line likely to be taken by supernatural agencies able, and possibly willing, to suspend or reverse that course. Indeed, logically developed, the dualistic theory must needs end in almost exclusive attention to Supernature, and in trust that its overruling strength will be exerted in favour of those who stand well with its denizens. On the other hand, the lessons of the great schoolmaster, experience, have hardly seemed to accord with this conclusion. They have taught, with considerable emphasis, that it does not answer to neglect Nature; and that, on the whole, the more attention paid to her dictates the better men fare.

Thus the theoretical antithesis brought about a practical antagonism. From the earliest times of which we have any knowledge, Naturalism and Supernaturalism have consciously, or unconsciously, competed and struggled with one another; and the varying fortunes of the contest are written in the records of the course of civilisation, from those of Egypt and Babylonia, six thousand years ago, down to those of our own time and people.

These records inform us that, so far as men have paid attention to Nature, they have been rewarded for their pains. They have developed the Arts which have furnished the conditions of civilised existence; and the Sciences, which have been a progressive revelation of reality and have afforded the best discipline of the mind in the methods of discovering truth. They have accumulated a vast body of universally accepted knowledge; and the conceptions of man and of society, of morals and of law, based upon that knowledge, are every day more and more, either openly or tacitly, acknowledged to be the foundations of right action.

History also tells us that the field of the supernatural has rewarded its cultivators with a harvest, perhaps not less luxuriant, but of a different character. It has produced an almost infinite diversity of Religions. These, if we set aside the ethical concomitants upon which natural knowledge also has a claim, are composed of information about Supernature; they tell us of the attributes of supernatural beings, of their relations with Nature, and of the operations by which their interference with the ordinary course of events can be secured or averted. It does not appear, however, that supernaturalists have attained to any agreement about these matters, or that history indicates a widening of the influence of supernaturalism on practice, with the onward flow of time. On the contrary, the various religions are, to a great extent, mutually exclusive; and their adherents delight in charging each other, not merely with error, but with criminality, deserving and ensuing punishment of infinite severity. In singular contrast with natural knowledge, again, the acquaintance of mankind with the supernatural appears the more extensive and the more exact, and the influence of supernatural doctrines upon conduct the greater, the further back we go in time and the lower the stage of civilisation submitted to investigation. Historically, indeed, there would seem to be an inverse relation between supernatural and natural knowledge. As the latter has widened, gained in precision and in trustworthiness, so has the former shrunk, grown vague and questionable; as the one has more and more filled the sphere of action, so has the other retreated into the region of meditation, or vanished behind the screen of mere verbal recognition.

Whether this difference of the fortunes of Naturalism and of Supernaturalism is an indication of the progress, or of the regress, of humanity; of a fall from, or an advance towards, the higher life; is a matter of opinion. The point to which I wish to direct attention is that the difference exists and is making itself felt. Men are growing to be seriously alive to the fact that the historical evolution of humanity, which is generally, and I venture to think not unreasonably, regarded as progress, has been, and is being, accompanied by a co-ordinate elimination of the supernatural from its originally large occupation of men's thoughts. The question—How far is this process to go?—is, in my apprehension, the Controverted Question of our time.

* * * * *

Controversy on this matter—prolonged, bitter, and fought out with the weapons of the flesh, as well as with those of the spirit—is no new thing to Englishmen. We have been more or less occupied with it these five hundred years. And, during that time, we have made attempts to establish a modus vivendi between the antagonists, some of which have had a world-wide influence; though, unfortunately, none have proved universally and permanently satisfactory.

In the fourteenth century, the controverted question among us was, whether certain portions of the Supernaturalism of mediaeval Christianity were well-founded. John Wicliff proposed a solution of the problem which, in the course of the following two hundred years, acquired wide popularity and vast historical importance: Lollards, Hussites, Lutherans, Calvinists, Zwinglians, Socinians, and Anabaptists, whatever their disagreements, concurred in the proposal to reduce the Supernaturalism of Christianity within the limits sanctioned by the Scriptures. None of the chiefs of Protestantism called in question either the supernatural origin and infallible authority of the Bible, or the exactitude of the account of the supernatural world given in its pages. In fact, they could not afford to entertain any doubt about these points, since the infallible Bible was the fulcrum of the lever with which they were endeavouring to upset the Chair of St. Peter. The "freedom of private judgment" which they proclaimed, meant no more, in practice, than permission to themselves to make free with the public judgment of the Roman Church, in respect of the canon and of the meaning to be attached to the words of the canonical books. Private judgment—that is to say, reason—was (theoretically, at any rate) at liberty to decide what books were and what were not to take the rank of "Scripture"; and to determine the sense of any passage in such books. But this sense, once ascertained to the mind of the sectary, was to be taken for pure truth—for the very word of God. The controversial efficiency of the principle of biblical infallibility lay in the fact that the conservative adversaries of the Reformers were not in a position to contravene it without entangling themselves in serious difficulties; while, since both Papists and Protestants agreed in taking efficient measures to stop the mouths of any more radical critics, these did not count.

The impotence of their adversaries, however, did not remove the inherent weakness of the position of the Protestants. The dogma of the infallibility of the Bible is no more self-evident than is that of the infallibility of the Pope. If the former is held by "faith," then the latter may be. If the latter is to be accepted, or rejected, by private judgment, why not the former? Even if the Bible could be proved anywhere to assert its own infallibility, the value of that self-assertion to those who dispute the point is not obvious. On the other hand, if the infallibility of the Bible was rested on that of a "primitive Church," the admission that the "Church" was formerly infallible was awkward in the extreme for those who denied its present infallibility. Moreover, no sooner was the Protestant principle applied to practice, than it became evident that even an infallible text, when manipulated by private judgment, will impartially countenance contradictory deductions; and furnish forth creeds and confessions as diverse as the quality and the information of the intellects which exercise, and the prejudices and passions which sway, such judgments. Every sect, confident in the derivative infallibility of its wire-drawing of infallible materials, was ready to supply its contingent of martyrs; and to enable history, once more, to illustrate the truth, that steadfastness under persecution says much for the sincerity and still more for the tenacity, of the believer, but very little for the objective truth of that which he believes. No martyrs have sealed their faith with their blood more steadfastly than the Anabaptists.

Last, but not least, the Protestant principle contained within itself the germs of the destruction of the finality, which the Lutheran, Calvinistic, and other Protestant Churches fondly imagined they had reached. Since their creeds were professedly based on the canonical Scriptures, it followed that, in the long run, whoso settled the canon defined the creed. If the private judgment of Luther might legitimately conclude that the epistle of James was contemptible, while the epistles of Paul contained the very essence of Christianity, it must be permissible for some other private judgment, on as good or as bad grounds, to reverse these conclusions; the critical process which excluded the Apocrypha could not be barred, at any rate by people who rejected the authority of the Church, from extending its operations to Daniel, the Canticles, and Ecclesiastes; nor, having got so far, was it easy to allege any good ground for staying the further progress of criticism. In fact, the logical development of Protestantism could not fail to lay the authority of the Scriptures at the feet of Reason; and, in the hands of latitudinarian and rationalistic theologians, the despotism of the Bible was rapidly converted into an extremely limited monarchy. Treated with as much respect as ever, the sphere of its practical authority was minimised; and its decrees were valid only so far as they were countersigned by common sense, the responsible minister.

The champions of Protestantism are much given to glorify the Reformation of the sixteenth century as the emancipation of Reason; but it may be doubted if their contention has any solid ground; while there is a good deal of evidence to show, that aspirations after intellectual freedom had nothing whatever to do with the movement. Dante, who struck the Papacy as hard blows as Wicliff; Wicliff himself and Luther himself, when they began their work; were far enough from any intention of meddling with even the most irrational of the dogmas of mediaeval Supernaturalism. From Wicliff to Socinus, or even to Muenzer, Rothmann, and John of Leyden, I fail to find a trace of any desire to set reason free. The most that can be discovered is a proposal to change masters. From being the slave of the Papacy the intellect was to become the serf of the Bible; or, to speak more accurately, of somebody's interpretation of the Bible, which, rapidly shifting its attitude from the humility of a private judgment to the arrogant Caesaro-papistry of a state-enforced creed, had no more hesitation about forcibly extinguishing opponent private judgments and judges, than had the old-fashioned Pontiff-papistry.

It was the iniquities, and not the irrationalities, of the Papal system that lay at the bottom of the revolt of the laity; which was, essentially, an attempt to shake off the intolerable burden of certain practical deductions from a Supernaturalism in which everybody, in principle, acquiesced. What was the gain to intellectual freedom of abolishing transubstantiation, image worship, indulgences, ecclesiastical infallibility; if consubstantiation, real-unreal presence mystifications, the bibliolatry, the "inner-light" pretensions, and the demonology, which are fruits of the same supernaturalistic tree, remained in enjoyment of the spiritual and temporal support of a new infallibility? One does not free a prisoner by merely scraping away the rust from his shackles.

It will be asked, perhaps, was not the Reformation one of the products of that great outbreak of many-sided free mental activity included under the general head of the Renascence? Melanchthon, Ulrich von Hutten, Beza, were they not all humanists? Was not the arch-humanist, Erasmus, fautor-in-chief of the Reformation, until he got frightened and basely deserted it?

From the language of Protestant historians, it would seem that they often forget that Reformation and Protestantism are by no means convertible terms. There were plenty of sincere and indeed zealous reformers, before, during, and after the birth and growth of Protestantism, who would have nothing to do with it. Assuredly, the rejuvenescence of science and of art; the widening of the field of Nature by geographical and astronomical discovery; the revelation of the noble ideals of antique literature by the revival of classical learning; the stir of thought, throughout all classes of society, by the printers' work, loosened traditional bonds and weakened the hold of mediaeval Supernaturalism. In the interests of liberal culture and of national welfare, the humanists were eager to lend a hand to anything which tended to the discomfiture of their sworn enemies, the monks, and they willingly supported every movement in the direction of weakening ecclesiastical interference with civil life. But the bond of a common enemy was the only real tie between the humanist and the protestant; their alliance was bound to be of short duration, and, sooner or later, to be replaced by internecine warfare. The goal of the humanists, whether they were aware of it or not, was the attainment of the complete intellectual freedom of the antique philosopher, than which nothing could be more abhorrent to a Luther, a Calvin, a Beza, or a Zwingli.

The key to the comprehension of the conduct of Erasmus, seems to me to lie in the clear apprehension of this fact. That he was a man of many weaknesses may be true; in fact, he was quite aware of them and professed himself no hero. But he never deserted that reformatory movement which he originally contemplated; and it was impossible he should have deserted the specifically Protestant reformation in which he never took part. He was essentially a theological whig, to whom radicalism was as hateful as it is to all whigs; or, to borrow a still more appropriate comparison from modern times, a broad churchman who refused to enlist with either the High Church or the Low Church zealots, and paid the penalty of being called coward, time-server and traitor, by both. Yet really there is a good deal in his pathetic remonstrance that he does not see why he is bound to become a martyr for that in which he does not believe; and a fair consideration of the circumstances and the consequences of the Protestant reformation seems to me to go a long way towards justifying the course he adopted.

Few men had better means of being acquainted with the condition of Europe; none could be more competent to gauge the intellectual shallowness and self-contradiction of the Protestant criticism of Catholic doctrine; and to estimate, at its proper value, the fond imagination that the waters let out by the Renascence would come to rest amidst the blind alleys of the new ecclesiasticism. The bastard, whilom poor student and monk, become the familiar of bishops and princes, at home in all grades of society, could not fail to be aware of the gravity of the social position, of the dangers imminent from the profligacy and indifference of the ruling classes, no less than from the anarchical tendencies of the people who groaned under their oppression. The wanderer who had lived in Germany, in France, in England, in Italy, and who counted many of the best and most influential men in each country among his friends, was not likely to estimate wrongly the enormous forces which were still at the command of the Papacy. Bad as the churchmen might be, the statesmen were worse; and a person of far more sanguine temperament than Erasmus might have seen no hope for the future, except in gradually freeing the ubiquitous organisation of the Church from the corruptions which alone, as he imagined, prevented it from being as beneficent as it was powerful. The broad tolerance of the scholar and man of the world might well be revolted by the ruffianism, however genial, of one great light of Protestantism, and the narrow fanaticism, however learned and logical, of others; and to a cautious thinker, by whom, whatever his shortcomings, the ethical ideal of the Christian evangel was sincerely prized, it really was a fair question, whether it was worth while to bring about a political and social deluge, the end of which no mortal could foresee, for the purpose of setting up Lutheran, Zwinglian, and other Peterkins, in the place of the actual claimant to the reversion of the spiritual wealth of the Galilean fisherman.

Let us suppose that, at the beginning of the Lutheran and Zwinglian movement, a vision of its immediate consequences had been granted to Erasmus; imagine that to the spectre of the fierce outbreak of Anabaptist communism, which opened the apocalypse, had succeeded, in shadowy procession, the reign of terror and of spoliation in England, with the judicial murders of his friends, More and Fisher; the bitter tyranny of evangelistic clericalism in Geneva and in Scotland; the long agony of religious wars, persecutions, and massacres, which devastated France and reduced Germany almost to savagery; finishing with the spectacle of Lutheranism in its native country sunk into mere dead Erastian formalism, before it was a century old; while Jesuitry triumphed over Protestantism in three-fourths of Europe, bringing in its train a recrudescence of all the corruptions Erasmus and his friends sought to abolish; might not he have quite honestly thought this a somewhat too heavy price to pay for Protestantism; more especially, since no one was in a better position than himself to know how little the dogmatic foundation of the new confessions was able to bear the light which the inevitable progress of humanistic criticism would throw upon them? As the wiser of his contemporaries saw, Erasmus was, at heart, neither Protestant nor Papist, but an "Independent Christian"; and, as the wiser of his modern biographers have discerned, he was the precursor, not of sixteenth century reform, but of eighteenth century "enlightenment"; a sort of broad-church Voltaire, who held by his "Independent Christianity" as stoutly as Voltaire by his Deism.

In fact, the stream of the Renascence, which bore Erasmus along, left Protestantism stranded amidst the mudbanks of its articles and creeds: while its true course became visible to all men, two centuries later. By this time, those in whom the movement of the Renascence was incarnate became aware what spirit they were of; and they attacked Supernaturalism in its Biblical stronghold, defended by Protestants and Romanists with equal zeal. In the eyes of the "Patriarch," Ultramontanism, Jansenism, and Calvinism were merely three persons of the one "Infame" which it was the object of his life to crush. If he hated one more than another, it was probably the last; while D'Holbach, and the extreme left of the free-thinking host, were disposed to show no more mercy to Deism and Pantheism.

The sceptical insurrection of the eighteenth century made a terrific noise and frightened not a few worthy people out of their wits; but cool judges might have foreseen, at the outset, that the efforts of the later rebels were no more likely than those of the earlier, to furnish permanent resting-places for the spirit of scientific inquiry. However worthy of admiration may be the acuteness, the common sense, the wit, the broad humanity, which abound in the writings of the best of the free-thinkers; there is rarely much to be said for their work as an example of the adequate treatment of a grave and difficult investigation. I do not think any impartial judge will assert that, from this point of view, they are much better than their adversaries. It must be admitted that they share to the full the fatal weakness of a priori philosophising, no less than the moral frivolity common to their age; while a singular want of appreciation of history, as the record of the moral and social evolution of the human race, permitted them to resort to preposterous theories of imposture, in order to account for the religious phenomena which are natural products of that evolution.

For the most part, the Romanist and Protestant adversaries of the free-thinkers met them with arguments no better than their own; and with vituperation, so far inferior that it lacked the wit. But one great Christian Apologist fairly captured the guns of the free-thinking array, and turned their batteries upon themselves. Speculative "infidelity" of the eighteenth century type was mortally wounded by the Analogy; while the progress of the historical and psychological sciences brought to light the important part played by the mythopoeic faculty; and, by demonstrating the extreme readiness of men to impose upon themselves, rendered the calling in of sacerdotal cooperation, in most cases, a superfluity.

Again, as in the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries, social and political influences came into play. The free-thinking philosophes, who objected to Rousseau's sentimental religiosity almost as much as they did to L'Infame, were credited with the responsibility for all the evil deeds of Rousseau's Jacobin disciples, with about as much justification as Wicliff was held responsible for the Peasants' revolt, or Luther for the Bauern-krieg. In England, though our ancien regime was not altogether lovely, the social edifice was never in such a bad way as in France; it was still capable of being repaired; and our forefathers, very wisely, preferred to wait until that operation could be safely performed, rather than pull it all down about their ears, in order to build a philosophically planned house on brand-new speculative foundations. Under these circumstances, it is not wonderful that, in this country, practical men preferred the gospel of Wesley and Whitfield to that of Jean Jacques; while enough of the old leaven of Puritanism remained to ensure the favour and support of a large number of religious men to a revival of evangelical supernaturalism. Thus, by degrees, the free-thinking, or the indifference, prevalent among us in the first half of the eighteenth century, was replaced by a strong supernaturalistic reaction, which submerged the work of the free-thinkers; and even seemed, for a time, to have arrested the naturalistic movement of which that work was an imperfect indication. Yet, like Lollardry, four centuries earlier, free-thought merely took to running underground, safe, sooner or later, to return to the surface.

* * * * *

My memory, unfortunately, carries me back to the fourth decade of the nineteenth century, when the evangelical flood had a little abated and the tops of certain mountains were soon to appear, chiefly in the neighbourhood of Oxford; but when nevertheless, bibliolatry was rampant; when church and chapel alike proclaimed, as the oracles of God, the crude assumptions of the worst informed and, in natural sequence, the most presumptuously bigoted, of all theological schools.

In accordance with promises made on my behalf, but certainly without my authorisation, I was very early taken to hear "sermons in the vulgar tongue." And vulgar enough often was the tongue in which some preacher, ignorant alike of literature, of history, of science, and even of theology, outside that patronised by his own narrow school, poured forth, from the safe entrenchment of the pulpit, invectives against those who deviated from his notion of orthodoxy. From dark allusions to "sceptics" and "infidels," I became aware of the existence of people who trusted in carnal reason; who audaciously doubted that the world was made in six natural days, or that the deluge was universal; perhaps even went so far as to question the literal accuracy of the story of Eve's temptation, or of Balaam's ass; and, from the horror of the tones in which they were mentioned, I should have been justified in drawing the conclusion that these rash men belonged to the criminal classes. At the same time, those who were more directly responsible for providing me with the knowledge essential to the right guidance of life (and who sincerely desired to do so), imagined they were discharging that most sacred duty by impressing upon my childish mind the necessity, on pain of reprobation in this world and damnation in the next, of accepting, in the strict and literal sense, every statement contained in the Protestant Bible. I was told to believe, and I did believe, that doubt about any of them was a sin, not less reprehensible than a moral delict. I suppose that, out of a thousand of my contemporaries, nine hundred, at least, had their minds systematically warped and poisoned, in the name of the God of truth, by like discipline. I am sure that, even a score of years later, those who ventured to question the exact historical accuracy of any part of the Old Testament and a fortiori of the Gospels, had to expect a pitiless shower of verbal missiles, to say nothing of the other disagreeable consequences which visit those who, in any way, run counter to that chaos of prejudices called public opinion.

My recollections of this time have recently been revived by the perusal of a remarkable document,[9] signed by as many as thirty-eight out of the twenty odd thousand clergymen of the Established Church. It does not appear that the signataries are officially accredited spokesmen of the ecclesiastical corporation to which they belong; but I feel bound to take their word for it, that they are "stewards of the Lord, who have received the Holy Ghost," and, therefore, to accept this memorial as evidence that, though the Evangelicism of my early days may be deposed from its place of power, though so many of the colleagues of the thirty-eight even repudiate the title of Protestants, yet the green bay tree of bibliolatry flourishes as it did sixty years ago. And, as in those good old times, whoso refuses to offer incense to the idol is held to be guilty of "a dishonour to God," imperilling his salvation.

It is to the credit of the perspicacity of the memorialists that they discern the real nature of the Controverted Question of the age. They are awake to the unquestionable fact that, if Scripture has been discovered "not to be worthy of unquestioning belief," faith "in the supernatural itself" is, so far, undermined. And I may congratulate myself upon such weighty confirmation of an opinion in which I have had the fortune to anticipate them. But whether it is more to the credit of the courage, than to the intelligence, of the thirty-eight that they should go on to proclaim that the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testaments "declare incontrovertibly the actual historical truth in all records, both of past events and of the delivery of predictions to be thereafter fulfilled," must be left to the coming generation to decide.

The interest which attaches to this singular document will, I think, be based by most thinking men, not upon what it is, but upon that of which it is a sign. It is an open secret, that the memorial is put forth as a counterblast to a manifestation of opinion of a contrary character, on the part of certain members of the same ecclesiastical body, who therefore have, as I suppose, an equal right to declare themselves "stewards of the Lord and recipients of the Holy Ghost." In fact, the stream of tendency towards Naturalism, the course of which I have briefly traced, has, of late years, flowed so strongly, that even the Churches have begun, I dare not say to drift, but, at any rate, to swing at their moorings. Within the pale of the Anglican establishment, I venture to doubt, whether, at this moment, there are as many thorough-going defenders of "plenary inspiration" as there were timid questioners of that doctrine, half a century ago. Commentaries, sanctioned by the highest authority, give up the "actual historical truth" of the cosmogonical and diluvial narratives. University professors of deservedly high repute accept the critical decision that the Hexateuch is a compilation, in which the share of Moses, either as author or as editor, is not quite so clearly demonstrable as it might be; highly placed Divines tell us that the pre-Abrahamic Scripture narratives may be ignored; that the book of Daniel may be regarded as a patriotic romance of the second century B.C.; that the words of the writer of the fourth Gospel are not always to be distinguished from those which he puts into the mouth of Jesus. Conservative, but conscientious, revisers decide that whole passages, some of dogmatic and some of ethical importance, are interpolations. An uneasy sense of the weakness of the dogma of Biblical infallibility seems to be at the bottom of a prevailing tendency once more to substitute the authority of the "Church" for that of the Bible. In my old age, it has happened to me to be taken to task for regarding Christianity as a "religion of a book" as gravely as, in my youth, I should have been reprehended for doubting that proposition. It is a no less interesting symptom that the State Church seems more and more anxious to repudiate all complicity with the principles of the Protestant Reformation and to call itself "Anglo-Catholic." Inspiration, deprived of its old intelligible sense, is watered down into a mystification. The Scriptures are, indeed, inspired; but they contain a wholly undefined and indefinable "human element"; and this unfortunate intruder is converted into a sort of biblical whipping boy. Whatsoever scientific investigation, historical or physical, proves to be erroneous, the "human element" bears the blame; while the divine inspiration of such statements, as by their nature are out of reach of proof or disproof, is still asserted with all the vigour inspired by conscious safety from attack. Though the proposal to treat the Bible "like any other book" which caused so much scandal, forty years ago, may not yet be generally accepted, and though Bishop Colenso's criticisms may still lie, formally, under ecclesiastical ban, yet the Church has not wholly turned a deaf ear to the voice of the scientific tempter; and many a coy divine, while "crying I will ne'er consent," has consented to the proposals of that scientific criticism which the memorialists renounce and denounce.

A humble layman, to whom it would seem the height of presumption to assume even the unconsidered dignity of a "steward of science," may well find this conflict of apparently equal ecclesiastical authorities perplexing—suggestive, indeed, of the wisdom of postponing attention to either, until the question of precedence between them is settled. And this course will probably appear the more advisable, the more closely the fundamental position of the memorialists is examined.

"No opinion of the fact or form of Divine Revelation, founded on literary criticism [and I suppose I may add historical, or physical, criticism] of the Scriptures themselves, can be admitted to interfere with the traditionary testimony of the Church, when that has been once ascertained and verified by appeal to antiquity."[10]

Grant that it is "the traditionary testimony of the Church" which guarantees the canonicity of each and all of the books of the Old and New Testaments. Grant also that canonicity means infallibility; yet, according to the thirty-eight, this "traditionary testimony" has to be "ascertained and verified by appeal to antiquity." But "ascertainment and verification" are purely intellectual processes, which must be conducted according to the strict rules of scientific investigation, or be self-convicted of worthlessness. Moreover, before we can set about the appeal to "antiquity," the exact sense of that usefully vague term must be defined by similar means. "Antiquity" may include any number of centuries, great or small; and whether "antiquity" is to comprise the Council of Trent, or to stop a little beyond that of Nicaea, or to come to an end in the time of Irenaenus, or in that of Justin Martyr, are knotty questions which can be decided, if at all, only by those critical methods which the signataries treat so cavalierly. And yet the decision of these questions is fundamental, for as the limits of the canonical scriptures vary, so may the dogmas deduced from them require modification. Christianity is one thing, if the fourth Gospel, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the pastoral Epistles, and the Apocalypse are canonical and (by the hypothesis) infallibly true; and another thing, if they are not. As I have already said, whoso defines the canon defines the creed.

Now it is quite certain with respect to some of these books, such as the Apocalypse and the Epistle to the Hebrews, that the Eastern and the Western Church differed in opinion for centuries; and yet neither the one branch nor the other can have considered its judgment infallible, since they eventually agreed to a transaction by which each gave up its objection to the book patronised by the other. Moreover, the "fathers" argue (in a more or less rational manner) about the canonicity of this or that book, and are by no means above producing evidence, internal and external, in favour of the opinions they advocate. In fact, imperfect as their conceptions of scientific method may be, they not unfrequently used it to the best of their ability. Thus it would appear that though science, like Nature, may be driven out with a fork, ecclesiastical or other, yet she surely comes back again. The appeal to "antiquity" is, in fact, an appeal to science, first to define what antiquity is; secondly, to determine what "antiquity," so defined, says about canonicity; thirdly, to prove that canonicity means infallibility. And when science, largely in the shape of the abhorred "criticism," has answered this appeal, and has shown that "antiquity" used her own methods, however clumsily and imperfectly, she naturally turns round upon the appellants, and demands that they should show cause why, in these days, science should not resume the work the ancients did so imperfectly, and carry it out efficiently.

But no such cause can be shown. If "antiquity" permitted Eusebius, Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, to argue for the reception of this book into the canon and the rejection of that, upon rational grounds, "antiquity" admitted the whole principle of modern criticism. If Irenaeus produces ridiculous reasons for limiting the Gospels to four, it was open to any one else to produce good reasons (if he had them) for cutting them down to three, or increasing them to five. If the Eastern branch of the Church had a right to reject the Apocalypse and accept the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Western an equal right to accept the Apocalypse and reject the Epistle, down to the fourth century, any other branch would have an equal right, on cause shown, to reject both, or, as the Catholic Church afterwards actually did, to accept both.

Thus I cannot but think that the thirty-eight are hoist with their own petard. Their "appeal to antiquity" turns out to be nothing but a round-about way of appealing to the tribunal, the jurisdiction of which they affect to deny. Having rested the world of Christian supernaturalism on the elephant of biblical infallibility, and furnished the elephant with standing ground on the tortoise of "antiquity," they, like their famous Hindoo analogue, have been content to look no further; and have thereby been spared the horror of discovering that the tortoise rests on a grievously fragile construction, to a great extent the work of that very intellectual operation which they anathematise and repudiate.

Moreover, there is another point to be considered. It is of course true that a Christian Church (whether the Christian Church, or not, depends on the connotation of the definite article) existed before the Christian scriptures; and that the infallibility of these depends upon the infallibility of the judgment of the persons who selected the books of which they are composed, out of the mass of literature current among the early Christians. The logical acumen of Augustine showed him that the authority of the Gospel he preached must rest on that of the Church to which he belonged.[11] But it is no less true that the Hebrew and the Septuagint versions of most, if not all, of the Old Testament books existed before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth; and that their divine authority is presupposed by, and therefore can hardly depend upon, the religious body constituted by his disciples. As everybody knows, the very conception of a "Christ" is purely Jewish. The validity of the argument from the Messianic prophecies vanishes unless their infallible authority is granted; and, as a matter of fact, whether we turn to the Gospels, the Epistles, or the writings of the early Apologists, the Jewish scriptures are recognised as the highest court of appeal of the Christian.

The proposal to cite Christian "antiquity" as a witness to the infallibility of the Old Testament, when its own claims to authority vanish, if certain propositions contained in the Old Testament are erroneous, hardly satisfies the requirements of lay logic. It is as if a claimant to be sole legatee, under another kind of testament, should offer his assertion as sufficient evidence of the validity of the will. And, even were not such a circular, or rather rotatory, argument, that the infallibility of the Bible is testified by the infallible Church, whose infallibility is testified by the infallible Bible, too absurd for serious consideration, it remains permissible to ask, Where and when the Church, during the period of its infallibility, as limited by Anglican dogmatic necessities, has officially decreed the "actual historical truth of all records" in the Old Testament? Was Augustine heretical when he denied the actual historical truth of the record of the Creation? Father Suarez, standing on later Roman tradition, may have a right to declare that he was; but it does not lie in the mouth of those who limit their appeal to that early "antiquity," in which Augustine played so great a part, to say so.

* * * * *

Among the watchers of the course of the world of thought, some view with delight and some with horror, the recrudescence of Supernaturalism which manifests itself among us, in shapes ranged along the whole flight of steps, which, in this case, separates the sublime from the ridiculous—from Neo-Catholicism and Inner-light mysticism, at the top, to unclean things, not worthy of mention in the same breath, at the bottom. In my poor opinion, the importance of these manifestations is often greatly over-estimated. The extant forms of Supernaturalism have deep roots in human nature, and will undoubtedly die hard; but, in these latter days, they have to cope with an enemy whose full strength is only just beginning to be put out, and whose forces, gathering strength year by year, are hemming them round on every side. This enemy is Science, in the acceptation of systematized natural knowledge, which, during the last two centuries, has extended those methods of investigation, the worth of which is confirmed by daily appeal to Nature, to every region in which the Supernatural has hitherto been recognised.

When scientific historical criticism reduced the annals of heroic Greece and of regal Rome to the level of fables; when the unity of authorship of the Iliad was successfully assailed by scientific literary criticism; when scientific physical criticism, after exploding the geocentric theory of the universe and reducing the solar system itself to one of millions of groups of like cosmic specks, circling, at unimaginable distances from one another through infinite space, showed the supernaturalistic theories of the duration of the earth and of life upon it, to be as inadequate as those of its relative dimensions and importance had been; it needed no prophetic gift to see that, sooner or later, the Jewish and the early Christian records would be treated in the same manner; that the authorship of the Hexateuch and of the Gospels would be as severely tested; and that the evidence in favour of the veracity of many of the statements found in the Scriptures would have to be strong indeed, if they were to be opposed to the conclusions of physical science. In point of fact, so far as I can discover, no one competent to judge of the evidential strength of these conclusions, ventures now to say that the biblical accounts of the creation and of the deluge are true in the natural sense of the words of the narratives. The most modern Reconcilers venture upon is to affirm, that some quite different sense may he put upon the words; and that this non-natural sense may, with a little trouble, be manipulated into some sort of noncontradiction of scientific truth.

My purpose, in the essay (XVI.) which treats of the narrative of the Deluge, was to prove, by physical criticism, that no such event as that described ever took place; to exhibit the untrustworthy character of the narrative demonstrated by literary criticism; and, finally, to account for its origin, by producing a form of those ancient legends of pagan Chaldaea, from which the biblical compilation is manifestly derived. I have yet to learn that the main propositions of this essay can be seriously challenged.

In the essays (II., III.) on the narrative of the Creation, I have endeavoured to controvert the assertion that modern science supports, either the interpretation put upon it by Mr. Gladstone, or any interpretation which is compatible with the general sense of the narrative, quite apart from particular details. The first chapter of Genesis teaches the supernatural creation of the present forms of life; modern science teaches that they have come about by evolution. The first chapter of Genesis teaches the successive origin—firstly, of all the plants, secondly, of all the aquatic and aerial animals, thirdly, of all the terrestrial animals, which now exist—during distinct intervals of time; modern science teaches that, throughout all the duration of an immensely long past so far as we have any adequate knowledge of it (that is as far back as the Silurian epoch), plants, aquatic, aerial, and terrestrial animals have co-existed; that the earliest known are unlike those which at present exist; and that the modern species have come into existence as the last terms of a series, the members of which have appeared one after another. Thus, far from confirming the account in Genesis, the results of modern science, so far as they go, are in principle, as in detail, hopelessly discordant with it.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse