Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

progress in a new course of evolution is the history of the Christian Churches, orthodox and heterodox. The steps in this evolution are obvious. The first is the birth of a new theological scheme arising out of the union of elements derived from Greek philosophy with elements derived from Israelitic theology. In the Fourth Gospel, the Logos, raised to a somewhat higher degree of personification than in the Alexandrian theosophy, is identified with Jesus of Nazareth. In the Epistles, especially the later of those attributed to St. Paul, the Israelitic ideas of the Messiah and of sacrificial atonement coalesce with one another and with the embodiment of the Logos in Jesus, until the apotheosis of the Son of Man is almost, or quite, effected. The history of Christian dogma, from Justin to Athanasius, is a record of continual progress in the same direction, until the fair body of religion, revealed in almost naked purity by the prophets, is once more hidden under a new accumulation of dogmas and of ritual practices of wbich the primitive Nazarene knew nothing; and which he would probably have regarded as blasphemous if he could have been made to understand them.

As, century after century, the ages roll on, polytheism comes back under the disguise of Mariolatry and the adoration of saints; imageworship becomes as rampant as in old Egypt; adoration of relics takes the place of the old fetish-worship; the virtues of the ephod pale before those of holy coats and handkerchiefs ; shrines and calvaries make up for the loss of the ark and of the high places; and even the lustral fluid of paganism is replaced by holy water at the porches of the temples. A touching ceremony—the common meal originally eaten in pious memory of a loved teacher-was metamorphosed into a flesh-and-blood sacrifice, supposed to possess exactly that redeeming virtue which the prophets denied to the flesh-and-blood sacrifices of their day; while the minute observance of ritual was raised to a degree of punctilious refinement which Levitical legislators might envy. And, with the growth of a vast officially recognised theology, grew its officially unrecognised but inevitable concomitant, the belief in evil spirits, in possession, in sorcery, in charms and omens, until the Christians of the twelfth century after our era were sunk in more debased and brutal superstitions than are recorded of the Israelites in the twelfth century before it.

The greatest men of the middle ages are unable to escape the infection. Dante's Inferno' would be revolting if it were not so often sublime, so often exquisitely tender. The hideous pictures which cover a vast space on the south wall of the Campo Santo of Pisa convey information, as terrible as it is indisputable, of the theological conceptions of Dante's countrymen in the fourteenth century, whose eyes were addressed by the painters of those disgusting chism of either the Roman, Greek, or Anglican Churches, if they desired to be considered orthodox Christians.

scenes, and whose approbation they knew how to win. A candid Mexican of the time of Cortez, could he have seen this Christian burial-place, would have taken it for an appropriately adorned Teocalli. The professed disciple of the God of justice and of mercy might there gloat over the sufferings of his fellow-men depicted as undergoing every extremity of atrocious and sanguinary torture to all eternity, for theological errors no less than for moral delinquencies ; while, in the central figure of Satan,"4 occupied in champing up souls in his capacious and well-toothed jaws, to void them again for the purpose of undergoing fresh suffering, we have the counterpart of the strange Polynesian and Egyptian dogma that there were certain gods who employed themselves in devouring the ghostly flesh of the spirits of the dead. But, in justice to the Polynesians, it must be recollected that, after three such operations, they thought the soul was purified and happy. In the view of the Christian theologian the operation was only a preparation for new tortures continued for ever and aye.

With the growth of civilisation in Europe, and with the revival of letters and of science in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the ethical and intellectual criticism of theology once more recommenced, and arrived at a temporary resting-place in the confessions of the various reformed Protestant sects in the sixteenth century, almost all of which, as soon as they were strong enough, began to persecute those who carried criticism beyond their own limit. But the movement was not arrested by these ecclesiastical barriers, as their constructors fondly imagined it would be; it was continued, tacitly or openly, by Galileo, by Hobbes, by Descartes, and especially by Spinoza, in the seventeenth century; by the English Freethinkers, by Rousseau, by the French Encyclopædists, and by the German Rationalists, among whom Lessing stands out a head and shoulders taller than the rest, throughout the eighteenth century; by the historians, the philologers, the Biblical critics, the geologists, and the biologists in the nineteenth century, until it is obvious to all who can see that the moral sense and the really scientific method of seeking for truth are once more predominating over false science. Once more ethics and theology are parting company.

It is my conviction that, with the spread of true scientific culture, whatever may be the medium, historical, philological, philosophical, or physical, through which that culture is conveyed, and with its

" Dante's description of Lucifer engaged in the eternal mastication of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas Iscariot

* Da ogni bocca dirompea co' denti

Un peccatore, a guisa di maciulla,

Si che tre ne facea così dolenti.
A quel dinanzi il mordere era nulla

Verso 'l graffiar, chè tal volta la schiena

Rimanca della pelle tutta brulla'is quite in harmony with the Pisan picture and perfectly Polynesian in conception.

necessary concomitant, a constant elevation of the standard of veracity, the end of the evolution of theology will be like its beginning-it will cease to have any relation to ethics. I suppose that so long as the human mind exists, it will not escape its deep-seated instinct to personify its intellectual conceptions. The science of the present day is as full of this particular form of intellectual shadow-worship as is the nescience of ignorant ages. The difference is that the philosopher who is worthy of the name knows that his personified hypotheses, such as law, and force, and ether, and the like, are merely useful symbols, while the ignorant and the careless take them for adequate expressions of reality. So it may be, that the majority of mankind may find the practice of morality made easier by the use of theological symbols. And, unless these are converted from symbols into idols, I do not see that science has anything to say to the practice, except to give an occasional warning of its dangers. But, when such symbols are dealt with as real existences, I think the highest duty which is laid upon men of science is to show that these dogmatic idols have no greater value than the fabrications of men's hands, the stocks and the stones, which they have replaced.

[ocr errors]

THE CHURCH AND THE VILLAGES:

WHAT HOPE?

Few men can have watched the movements of opinion during the past year without being impressed by the change of attitude obseryable in the two contending parties engaged upon the assault and defence of the possessions of that mysterious entity which goes by the name of the Church of England.

This entity it must be premised, so far as it has a collective existence, exists in the person of certain officials who are supposed to be devoting their lives to certain duties, and are in the possession of funds which, after every deduction from the grossly exaggerated estimates of the rhetoricians, are certainly very large and yet are being added to every week by the lavish offerings of the English people. We must go back to a remote past if we desire to trace the origin of that reserve fund for the maintenance of our clergy on which they now live; a fund which has gone on growing, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, for considerably more than a thousand years.

When people talk of disendowing the Church of England, they mean that this accumulated fund shall be confiscated by the nation for whose benefit it exists, and that it shall no longer be used for the purpose to which it has been so long devoted.

But what is this Church that is to be despoiled and beggared, to be disestablished and disendowed? We cannot call it a corporation, for it has no corporate existence as a chartered company or a college has. It has no representatives in the Lower House of Parliament, as the universities have. It has no common council with disciplinary powers, as the Incorporated Society of Law or the Inns of Court have. It has no voice speaking with authority, no homogeneity deserving the name. It cannot pass ordinances for the regulation of its minutest affairs, or impose rules of conduct upon any one, or levy the smallest contribution from man, woman, or child by its own decrees. You may call it an army if you please; but it is an army in which the commissioned officers have no control over the rank and file, no power of enforcing attendance at drill, no articles of war which any one heeds, and no generals whom any one fears. This mysterious entity, which is the sum-total of a multitude of more or less isolated units, we say is the owner of lands and buildings and rent-charge, and this property it is said is the property of the Church -the Church ? Nos numerus sumus!

Without any very great misuse of language, it may be said that among us there is another mysterious entity; this, too, the sum-total of a number of isolated units. These units, too, were only the other day in possession of houses and lands, and buildings considered to be public buildings; the units were almost in the same position as the clergy are at this moment, freeholders and practically irremovable; they were expected to perform certain duties which, as a rule, they performed with zeal and fidelity. In many cases, when sickness or old age came upon them, they discharged their functions by deputy; they had practically little or no discipline of control over them; • visitors' who never visited, feoffees who never interfered, governors who never governed. Each of these functionaries was called a schoolmaster, and the building in which he officiated was called a School. The sum-total of these many units had no name; but if the public buildings were rightly called schools, the aggregate of them might for convenience be called the School. A noun of multitude, standing in the same relation to its units as the current term 'the Church' does to its units—the Churches.

To whom did the property from which the schools were kept in efficiency, and their masters furnished with a maintenance-sometimes with much more than a mere maintenance—to whom did this property belong ? I can find but one answer. It was the property of the nation; a reserve fund which the nation had permitted certain individuals to set apart from time to time for the furtherance of the education of the people, the object aimed at being considered so excellent that the conditions imposed by the founder upon posterity were allowed to remain in force, he being supposed to have entered into a contract with the nation that, in consideration of the value of the surrender made, the reserve of property should be sanctioned, and the conditions imposed be held to be binding upon posterity. The land or the rent-charges which yesterday were private possessions ceased to be so to-day: they were private property; they became public property, and constituted the Educational Reserve.

I can no longer resist the conviction that, as in the one case so in the other, the nation may reconsider its treaty with School or Church; may determine that the reserve hitherto set apart for the education of a class, or a district, or the founder's kin, should no longer be applied according to the compact sanctioned in previous ages, and may in the same way reconsider its compact with the alienation of property now known as Church property, and deal with that far larger reserve hitherto applied for the promotion of the moral and spiritual welfare of the people. The nation has the right to do this, as it undoubtedly has the power. Whether in this case

« ForrigeFortsæt »