« PreviousContinue »
learn to conceive of her as a living, spiritual body, as infallible and as authoritative now as she ever was, with her eyes undimmed and her strength not abated, continuing to grow still as she has continued to grow hitherto : and the growth of the new dogmas that she may from time to time enunciate, we must learn to see are, from her own stand-point, signs of life and not signs of corruption. And further, when we come to look into her more closely, we must separate carefully the diverse elements we find in her-her discipline, her pious opinions, her theology, and her religion.
Let honest inquirers do this to the best of their power, and their views will undergo an unlookedfor change. Other difficulties of a more circumstantial kind, it is true, still remain for them ; and of these I shall speak presently. But putting these for the moment aside, and regarding the question under its widest aspects only-regarding it only in connection with the larger generalisations of science, and the primary postulates of man's spiritual existence--the theist will find in Catholicism no new difficulties. He will find in it the logical development of our natural moral sense, developed, indeed, and still developing, under a special and supernatural care—but essentially the same thing; with the same negations, the same assertions, the same positive truths, and the same impenetrable mysteries; and with nothing new added to them, but help, and certainty, and guidance.
NOW BE 1GNORA
UNIVERSAL HISTORY AND THE CLAIMS OF THE
“Oh the little more, and how much it is,
!". ROBERT BROWNING.
ND now we come to the last objections left us,
of those which modern thought has arrayed against the Christian Revelation; and these to many minds are the most conclusive and overwhelming of all—the objections raised against it by a critical study of history. Hitherto we have been considering the Church only with reference to our general sense of the fitness and the rational probability of things. We have now to consider her with reference to special facts. Her claims and her character, as she exists at present, may make perhaps appeal overpoweringly to us; but she cannot be judged by these. For these are closely bound up with a long earthly history, which the Church herself has written in one way, binding herself to stand or fall by the truth of it; and this all the secular wisdom of the world seems to be re-writing in quite another. This subject is so vast and intricate that even to approach the details of it would require volumes, not a single chapter. But room in a chapter may be found for one thing, of prior importance to any mass of detail; and that is a simple statement of the principles—unknown to, or forgotten by external critics—by which all this mass of detail is to be interpreted.
Let us remember first, then, to take a general view of the matter, that history as cited in witness against the Christian Revelation, divides itself into two main branches. The one is a critical examination of Christianity, taken by itself-the authorship, and the authenticity of its sacred books, and the origin and growth of its doctrines. The other is a critical examination of Christianity as compared with other religions. And the result of both these lines of study is, to those brought up in the old faith, to the last degree startling, and in appearance at least altogether disastrous. Let us sum up briefly the general results of them; and first of these the historical
We shall begin naturally with the Bible, as giving us the earliest historical point at which Christianity is assailable. What then has modern criticism accomplished on the Bible? The Biblical account of the creation it has shown to be, in its literal sense, an impossible fable. To passages thought mystical and prophetic it has assigned the homeliest, and often retrospective meanings. Everywhere at its touch what seemed supernatural has been humanised, and the divinity that hedged the records has rapidly abandoned them. And now looked at in the common daylight their whole aspect changes for us; and stories that we once accepted with a solemn reverence seem childish, ridiculous, grotesque, and not unfrequently barbarous. Or if we are hardly prepared to admit so much as this, this much at least has been established firmly—that the Bible, if it does not give the lie itself to the astonishing claims that have been made for it, contains nothing in itself, at any rate, that can of itself be sufficient to support them. This applies to the New Testament iust as much as to the Old; and the consequences here are even more momentous. Weighed as mere human testimony, the value of the Gospels becomes doubtful or asignificant. For the miracles of Christ, and for his superhuman nature, they contain little evidence, that even tends to be satisfactory; and even his daily words and actions it seems probable may have been inaccurately reported, in some cases perhaps invented, and in others perhaps supplied by a deceiving memory. When we pass from the Gospels to the Epistles, a kindred sight presents itself. We discern in them the writings of men not inspired from above; but, with many disagreements amongst themselves, struggling upwards from below, influenced by a variety of existing views, and doubtful which of them to assimilate. We discern in them, as we do in other writers, the products of their age and of their circumstances. The materials out of which they formed their doctrines we can find in the lay world around them. And as we follow the Church's history farther, and examine the appearance and the growth of her great subsequent dogmas, we can trace all of them to a natural and a non-Christian origin. We can see, for instance, how in part at least, men conceived the idea of the Trinity from the teachings of Greek Mysticism; and how the theory of the atonement was shaped by the ideas of Roman Jurisprudence. Everywhere, in fact, in the holy building supposed to have come down from God, we detect fragments of older structures, confessedly of earthly workmanship.
But the matter does not end here. Historical science not only shows us Christianity, with its sacred history, in this new light; but it sets other religions by the side of it, and shows us that their course through the world has been strangely similar. They too have had there sacred books, and their incarnate Gods for prophets; they have had their priesthoods, their traditions, and their growing bodies of doctrine : there is nothing in Christianity that cannot find its counterpart, even to the most marked details, in the life of its founder. Two centuries, for instance, before the birth of Christ, Buddha is said to have been born without human father. Angels sang in heaven to announce his advent; an aged hermit blessed him in his