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CHANGE OF SUBJECT IN THE SIXTH CHAPTER OF ST JOHN.
DR WISEMAN has devoted not less, I think, than sixteen pages, of the earlier part of his first lecture, to an account of those principles of Hermeneutical Science, by means of which the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist may, in his opinion, be deduced from the pages of Holy Writ. This preliminary statement of principles will assuredly seem very strange to all readers; and in those, who are not unacquainted with the arts of controversy, will probably raise doubts whether the system of interpretation, and the case to which it is applied, may not have been, by some ingenious contrivance, expressly adapted to each other. The fact however, which I have now mentioned, is not the most remarkable characteristic of the learned author's procedure, with respect to his hermeneutical schemes. With but little reference to the principles of interpretation employed, he had expatiated, through thirteen long discourses, on the doctrines and practices of the Church to which he belongs--satisfied, to all appearance, that his reasonings would of themselves be convincing to his hearers: but no sooner does he arrive at his fourteenth discourse—which is the first on Transubstantiation—than he begins to explain, almost as formally as he had done to his divinity students, the grounds of Scriptural Interpretation, with a view to the subject then to be discussed. The motives avowed for adopting such a course, being curious and well entitled to notice, are here given :
"Before entering on the arguments from Holy Writ, regarding this point [Transubstantiation], it is important that I should lay down clearly before you, the principles which will guide me in the examination of Scriptural texts. I have had, on other occasions, opportunity to remark, how there is a vague and insufficient way of satisfying ourselves regarding the meaning of Scriptural texts :-- that is to say, when, reading them over, and having in our minds a certain belief, we are sure to attach to them that meaning, which seems either absolutely to support it, or is, at least, reconcilable with it. It is in this way that many opposite opinions are by various sects equally held to be demonstrated in Scripture. Certainly there must be some key, or means of interpreting it more securely; and on the occasion alluded to, when I had occasion to examine several passages of Scripture, I contented myself with laying down, as a general rule, that we should examine it by itself, and find the key in other and clearer
passages, for the one under examination. But on the present occasion, it is necessary to enter more fully into an exposition of a few general and simple principles, which have their foundation in the philosophy of ordinary language, and in common sense, and which will be the principles that I shall seek to follow.” (Discourses, Vol. 11. pp. 136, 137.)
On entering upon the consideration of Dr Wiseman's Introductory Lecture, I determined, in the first instance, to disregard his array of hermeneutical principles : for I had generally found such exhibitions, at the best, rather showy than. useful; and had some reason to believe that they frequently tended to perplex and mislead, rather than to enlighten and direct. Besides, if they were founded in truth, I felt that I did not need them : if they were the result of artifice, I had no doubt of being able to detect their fallacy, by the mode in which they were applied. At the close of my review of the lecture, I certainly did not think that the specimens of interpretation, which had been examined, reflected any credit on the imposing apparatus by which they were announced. ... Under such circumstances, the learned author's principles of interpretation would probably have passed without remark, had they not been forced upon my attention, by the paragraph just extracted from his fourteenth discourse. If, however, I am thus tempted to offer some observations upon the subject, I shall speedily resume my main purpose.
All who have been employed in tracking error to its source will approve the maxim of the Logicians, that, for the most part, it lies hidden in universals. The individual object indeed, to which the general affirmation is applied, will frequently lay bare the fallacy in its hiding place ; yet greater caution is required, than is usually found, to avoid being misled by the plausibilities of theory. Hence the distrust with which welldevised plans of interpretation, prefixed to particular treatises, ought to be viewed. But in addition to the suspicions called forth by Dr Wiseman's hermeneutical principles as such, the learned author has unconsciously afforded us the strongest reasons for believing that something peculiarly wrong pervades their entire substance. In the last extract, we find that, prior to the fourteenth discourse, he had been content to “examine Scripture by means of itself, and find the key in other and clearer passages;” but that, when engaging in defence of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, he no longer relied upon so obvious a mode of proceeding. On that occasion, he found it “necessary to enter more fully into an exposition of a few general and simple principles, which have their foundation in the philosophy of ordinary language, and in common sense. Can any thing, in the first place, be more manifest, than that the person, who thus deserts his original principles of interpretation, does so because he feels that the principles he relinquishes will not sustain the cause he has in hand ? Can any thing, in the second place, be more certain, than that there is scarcely a principle of interpretation, however full of mistake and mischief, which may not, by dextrous management, be shown to have its foundation" in such a nebulous substratum as “the philosophy of ordinary language.” For my own part, I solemnly declare that if, in
reading any volume of science, or criticism, or literature or morals, I were to find the author so shifting his ground, in the process of enquiry, I should instantly throw away the book—with an indignant feeling, that the author is utterly unworthy of a moment's attention, from one whose aim is to ascertain the truth.
Waiving, for the present, all further animadversions on Dr Wiseman's general principles of interpretation, I shall now endeavour to explain one great object of his, in marking the 48th verse, of the 6th chapter of St John, as the introduction to an entirely new train of thought. This (probably) original notion of the learned writer is exceedingly ingenious; and although it would not, even if established, be so conclusive in his own favour as he imagined, could not fail to fix the attention of such an advocate in such a cause. On inspecting the aforesaid chapter, we find that, from v. 32 to v. 48, our Lord, after mentioning “ the true bread from heaven”-“the bread of God,” that “giveth life unto the world”—describes HIMSELF, in v. 35 and again in v. 48, as “the bread of life”-of which his faithful followers were to participate, and thereby “live for ever.” When afterwards, in v. 51, he mentions, for the first time, his flesh, he makes a pointed reference to all that he had previously said of himself— by again declaring that he is the living bread—coming down from heaven-giving eternal life to those