RATIONALISM IN EUROPE.
THE ANTECEDENTS OF PERSECUTION.
When it is remembered that the Founder of Christianity summed up human duties in the two precepts of love to God and love to man, and illustrated the second precept by a parable representing the sentiment of a common humanity destroying all the animosities of sectarianism, the history of persecution in the Christian Church appears as startling as it is painful. In the eighteenth century, when the minds of men were for the first time very sensible of the contrast, it was commonly explained by imputing interested motives to the clergy, and in all the writings of Voltaire and his school hypocrisy was represented as the usual concomitant of persecution. This notion may now be said to have quite passed away. While it is undoubtedly true that some persecutions, and even some that were very atrocious, have sprung from purely selfish motives, it is almost universally admitted that these are far from furnishing any adequate explanation for the facts. The burnings, the tortures, the imprisonments, the confiscations, the disabilities, the long wars and still longer animosities that for so many centuries marked the conflicts of great theological bodies, are chiefly due to men whose lives were spent in absolute devotion to what they believed to be true, and whose characters have passed unscathed through the most hostile and searching criticism. In their worst acts the persecutors were but the exponents and representatives of the wishes of a large section of the community, and that section was commonly the most earnest and the most unselfish. It has been observed too, since the subject has been investigated with a passionless judgment, that persecution invariably accompanied the realisation of a particular class of doctrines, fluctuated with their fluctuations, and may therefore be fairly presumed to represent their action upon life.
In the last chapter I have, I trust, done something towards the solution of the difficulty. I have shown that the normal effect of a certain class of realisations upon the character would be to produce an absolute indifference to the sufferings of those who were external to the Church, and consequently to remove that reluctance to inflict pain which is one of the chief preservatives of society. I have now to trace the order of ideas which persuaded men that it was their duty to persecute, and to show the process by which those ideas passed away. The task is a painful one, for the doctrines I must refer to are those which are most repugnant to our moral sense, and in an age in which they are not realised or believed the bare statement of them is sufficient to shock the feelings of many: at the same time a clear view of their nature and influence is absolutely essential to an understanding of the past.
There are two moral sentiments which seem universally diffused through the human race, and which may be regarded as the nuclei around which all religious systems are formed. They are the sense of virtue, leading men to attach the idea of merit to certain actions which they may perform; and the sense of sin, teaching men that their relation to the Deity is not that of claimants but of suppliants. Although in some degree antagonistic, there probably never was a religious mind in which they did not coexist, and they may be traced as prominent elements in the moral development of every age and creed, but at the same time their relative importance is far from being the same. There are certain ages in which the sense of virtue has been the mainspring of religion; there are other ages in which this position is occupied by the sense of sin. This may be partly owing to the differences in the original constitutions of different races, or to those influences of surrounding nature which act so early upon the mind that it is scarcely possible to distinguish them from natural tendencies; but it is certainly in a great measure due to the political and intellectual circumstances that are dominant. When prosperity and victory and dominion have long continued to elate, and when the virtues that contribute most to political greatness, such as fortitude and self-reliance, are cultivated, the sense of human dignity will become the chief moral principle, and every system that opposes it will be distasteful. But when, on the other hand, a religious system emanates from a suffering people, or from a people that is eminently endowed with religious sentiment, its character will be entirely different. It will reflect something of the circumstances that gave it birth; it will be full of pathos, of humility, of emotion; it will lead men to aspire to a lofty ideal, to interrogate their conscience with nervous anxiety, to study with scrupulous care the motives that actuate them, to distrust their own powers, and to throw themselves upon external help.
Now, of all systems the world has ever seen, the philosophies of ancient Greece and Rome appealed most strongly to the sense of virtue, and Christianity to the sense of sin. The ideal of the first was the majesty of self-relying humanity; the ideal of the other was the absorption of the manhood into God. It is impossible to look upon the awful beauty of a Greek statue, or to read a page of Plutarch, without perceiving how completely the idea of excellence was blended with that of pride. It is equally impossible to examine the life of a Christian saint, or the painting of an early Christian artist, without perceiving that the dominant conception was self-abnegation and self-distrust. In the earliest and purest days of the Church this was chiefly manifested in the devotional frame of mind which was habitual, and in the higher and more delicate moral perception that accompanied it. Christianity was then strictly a religion; that is to say, it consisted of modes of emotion and not of intellectual propositions. It was not till about the third century that the moral sentiments which at first constituted it were congealed into an elaborate theology, and were in consequence necessarily perverted. I say necessarily perverted, because a dogma cannot be an adequate or faithful representative of a mode of feeling. Moral sentiments do not possess the logical precision and rigidity which belong to the articles of a creed, and to convert the former into the latter invariably leads to the most fatal consequences. Thus, while the sense of virtue and the sense of sin have always coexisted, though in different degrees, in every religious mind, when expressed in a dogmatic form, under the names of Justification by Faith and Justification by Works, they became directly opposed to one another; and while each doctrine grew in the first instance out of the moral faculty, each was at last developed to consequences from which that faculty indignantly revolts. As the result of one doctrine, men constructed a theory in which the whole scheme of religion was turned into a system of elaborate barter; while that attitude of self-distrust and humility which was produced by the sensitiveness of an awakened conscience was soon transformed into a doctrine according to which all the virtues and all the piety of the heathen contained nothing that was pleasing to the Almighty, or that could ward off the sentence of eternal damnation.
In considering, however, the attitude which mankind occupied towards the Almighty in the early theology of the Church, we have another important element to examine: I mean the conception of hereditary guilt. To a civilised man, who regards the question abstractedly, no proposition can appear more self-evident than that a man can only be guilty of acts in the performance of which he has himself had some share. The misfortune of one man may fall upon another, but guilt appears to be entirely personal. Yet, on the other hand, there is nothing more certain than that the conceptions both of hereditary guilt and of hereditary merit pervade the belief and the restitutions of all nations, and have under the most varied circumstances clung to the mind with a tenacity which is even now but beginning to relax. We find them in every system of early punishment which involved children in the destruction of a guilty parent, in every account of curses transmitted through particular families or particular nations, in every hereditary aristocracy, and in every legend of an early fall. All these rest upon the idea that there is something in the merit or demerit of one man that may be reflected upon his successors altogether irrespectively of their own acts. It would perhaps be rash to draw with much confidence any law concerning the relations of this idea to different conditions of society from the history of Christendom, but, as far as we may judge, it seems to be strongest in ages when civilisation is very low, and on the whole to decline, but not by any means steadily and continuously, with the intellectual advance. There seems to be a period in the history of every nation when punishments involving the innocent child with the guilty parent are acquiesced in as perfectly natural, and another period when they are repudiated as manifestly unjust. We find, however, that in a portion of the middle ages when the night of barbarism was in part dispelled, a vast aristocratical system was organised which has probably contributed more than any other single cause to consolidate the doctrine of hereditary merit. For the essence of an aristocracy is to transfer the source of honour from the living to the dead, to make the merits of living men depend not so much upon their own character and actions as upon the actions and position of their ancestors; and as a great aristocracy is never insulated, as its ramifications penetrate into many spheres, and its social influence modifies all the relations of society, the minds of men become insensibly habituated to a standard of judgment from which they would otherwise have recoiled. If in the sphere of religion the rationalistic doctrine of personal merit and demerit should ever completely supersede the theological doctrine of hereditary merit or demerit, the change will, I believe, be mainly effected by the triumph of democratic principles in the sphere of politics.
The origin of this widely diffused habit of judging men by the deeds of their ancestors is one of the most obscure and contested points in philosophy. Some have seen in it a dim and distorted tradition of the Fall; others have attributed it to that confusion of misfortune with guilt which is so prominent in ancient beliefs. Partly in consequence of the universal conviction that guilt deserves punishment, and partly from the notion that the events which befall mankind are the results not of general laws but of isolated acts directed to special purposes, men imagined that whenever they saw suffering they might infer guilt. They saw that the effects of an unrighteous war will continue long after those who provoked it have passed away; that the virtue or vice, the wisdom or folly, of the parent will often determine the fortunes of the children; and that each generation has probably more power over the destiny of that which succeeds it than over its own. They saw that there was such a thing as transmitted suffering, and they therefore concluded that there must be such a thing as transmitted guilt. Besides this, patriotism and Church feeling, and every influence that combines men in a corporate existence, makes them live to a certain degree in the past, and identify themselves with the actions of the dead. The patriot feels a pride or shame in the deeds of his forefathers very similar to that which springs from his own. Connected with this, it has been observed that men have a constant tendency, in speaking of the human race, to forget that they are employing the language of metaphor, and to attribute to it a real objective existence distinct from the existence of living men. It may be added too that that retrospective imagination which is so strong in some nations, and which is more or less exhibited in all, leads men to invest the past with all the fascination of poetry, to represent it as a golden age incomparably superior to their own, and to imagine that some great catastrophe must have occurred to obscure it.
These considerations, and such as these, have often been urged by those who have written on the genesis of the notion of hereditary guilt. Fortunately, however, their examination is unnecessary for my present purpose, which is simply to ascertain the expression of this general conception in dogmatic teaching, and to trace its influence upon practice. The expression is both manifest and emphatic. According to the unanimous belief of the early Church, all who were external to Christianity were doomed to eternal damnation, not only on account of their own transgression, but also on account of the transmitted guilt of Adam; and therefore even the newborn infant was subject to the condemnation until baptism had united it to the Church.
The opinion which was so graphically expressed by the theologian who said 'he doubted not there were infants not a span long crawling about the floor of hell,' is not one of those on which it is pleasing to dilate. It is one, however, which was held with great confidence in the early Church, and if in times of tranquillity it became in a measure unrealised, whenever any heretic ventured to impugn it, it was most unequivocally enforced. At a period which is so early that it is impossible to define it, infant baptism was introduced into the Church; it was adopted by all the heretics, as well as by the orthodox; it was universally said to be for 'the remission of sins;' and the whole body of the Fathers, without exception or hesitation, pronounced that all infants who died unbaptised were excluded from heaven. In the case of unbaptised adults a few exceptions were admitted, [1:360] but the sentence on infants was inexorable. The learned English historian of Infant Baptism states that, with the exception of a contemporary of St. Augustine, named Vincentius, who speedily recanted his opinion as heretical, he has been unable to discover a single instance of an orthodox member of the Church expressing the opposite opinion before Hincmar, who was Archbishop of Rheims in the ninth century. [1:361] In the time of this prelate, a bishop who had quarrelled with his clergy and people ventured to prohibit baptism in his diocese; and Hincmar, while severely condemning the act, expressed a hope that it would not be visited on the infants who died when the interdict was in force. With this exception the unanimity seems to have been unbroken. Some of the Greek Fathers, indeed, imagined that there was a special place assigned to infants, where there was neither suffering nor enjoyment, while the Latins inferred from the hereditary guilt that they must descend into a place of torment; but both agreed that they could not be saved. The doctrine was so firmly rooted in the Church, that even Pelagius, who was one of the most rationalistic intellects of his age, and who entirely denied the reality of hereditary guilt, retained infant baptism, acknowledged that it was for the remission of sins, and did not venture to deny its necessity. It was on this point that he was most severely pressed by his opponents, and St. Augustine says that he was driven to the somewhat desperate resource of maintaining that baptism was necessary to wash away the guilt of the pettishness of the child! [2:361] Once, when severely pressed as to the consequences of the doctrine, St. Augustine was compelled to acknowledge that he was not prepared to assert dogmatically that it would have been better for these children not to have been born; but at the same time he denied emphatically that a separate place was assigned them, and in one of his sermons against the Pelagians he distinctly declared that they descended into 'everlasting fire.' [1:362] Origen and many of the Egyptians explained the doctrine by the theory of preexistence. [2:362] Augustine associated it with that of imputed righteousness, maintaining that guilt and virtue might be alike imputed; [3:362] and this view seems to have been generally adopted. Among the writings of the Fathers there are few which long possessed a greater authority than a short treatise 'De Fide,' which is one of the clearest and most forcible extant epitomes of the Patristic faith, and which till the time of Erasmus was generally ascribed to St. Augustine, though it is now known to have been written, in the beginning of the sixth century, by St. Fulgentius. [4:362] In this treatise we find the following very distinct statement of the doctrine: -- 'Be assured,' writes the saint, 'and doubt not that not only men who have obtained the use of their reason, but also little children who have begun to live in their mothers' womb and have there died, or who, having been just born, have passed away from the world without the sacrament of holy baptism, administered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, must be punished by the eternal torture of undying fire; for although they have committed no sin by their own will, they have nevertheless drawn with them the condemnation of original sin, by their carnal conception and nativity.' [1:363] It will be remembered that these saints, while maintaining that infants whose existence was but for a moment descended into eternal fire on account of an apple that was eaten four thousand years before they were born, maintained also that the creation and the death of those infants were the direct, personal, and uncontrolled acts of the Deity.
All through the middle ages we trace the influence of this doctrine in the innumerable superstitious rites which were devised as substitutes for regular baptism. Nothing indeed can be more curious, nothing can be more deeply pathetic, than the record of the many ways by which the terror-stricken mothers attempted to evade the awful sentence of their Church. Sometimes the baptismal water was sprinkled upon the womb; sometimes the stillborn child was baptised, in hopes that the Almighty would antedate the ceremony; sometimes the mother invoked the Holy Spirit to purify by His immediate power the infant that was to be born; sometimes she received the Host or obtained absolution, and applied them to the benefit of her child. These and many similar practices [1:364] continued all through the middle ages in spite of every effort to extirpate them, and the severest censures were unable to persuade the people that they were entirely ineffectual. For the doctrine of the Church had wrung the mother's heart with an agony that was too poignant even for that submissive age to bear. Weak and superstitions women, who never dreamed of rebelling against the teaching of their clergy, could not acquiesce in the perdition of their offspring, and they vainly attempted to escape from the dilemma by multiplying superstitious practices, or by attributing to them a more than orthodox efficacy. But the vigilance of the theologians was untiring. All the methods by which these unhappy mothers endeavoured to persuade themselves that their children might have been saved are preserved in the decrees of the Councils that anathematised them.
At last the Reformation came. In estimating the character of that great movement, we must carefully distinguish its immediate objects from its ultimate effects. The impulse of which it was in part the cause, and in part the consequence, at last issued in a diffusion of a rationalistic spirit which no Church, however retrograde or dogmatic, has been able to exclude. The essence of that spirit is to interpret the articles of special creeds by the principles of universal religion -- by the wants, the aspirations, and the moral sentiments which seem inherent in human nature. It leads men, in other words, to judge what is true and what is good, not by the teachings of tradition, but by the light of reason and of conscience; and where it has not produced an avowed change of creed. It has at least produced a change of realisations. Doctrines which shock our sense of right have been allowed gradually to become obsolete, or if they are brought forward they are stated in language which is so colourless and ambiguous, and with so many qualifications and exceptions, that their original force is almost lost. This, however, was the ultimate, not the immediate effect of the Reformation, and most of the Reformers were far from anticipating it. They designed to construct a religious system which should be as essentially dogmatic, distinct, and exclusive as that which they assailed, but which should represent more faithfully the teachings of the first four centuries. The Anabaptist movement was accompanied by so many excesses, and degenerated so constantly into anarchy, that it can scarcely be regarded as a school of religious thought, but it had at least the effect of directing the minds of theologians to the subject of infant baptism. The Council of Trent enunciated very clearly the doctrine of Rome. It declared the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation; it added, to guard against every cavil, that baptism must be by literal water, [1:366] and it concluded with the usual formulary of a curse. Among the Protestants two opposite tendencies were manifest. One of the first objects of the Reformers was to oppose or restrict the doctrine that ceremonies possessed an intrinsic merit independently of the disposition of the worshipper, and it was not difficult to perceive that this doctrine had been favoured by infant baptism more than by any other single cause. On the other hand, the Protestant taught even more clearly than the Catholic the doctrine of imputed righteousness, and was therefore more disposed to dwell upon the doctrine of imputed guilt. The Lutherans, in the Confession of Augsburg, asserted the absolute necessity of baptism quite as emphatically as the Tridentine theologians, [2:366] and in one respect many of the Protestants went beyond the Roman Catholics; for they taught explicitly that the penalty due to original sin was 'eternal fire,' whereas the Church of Rome had never formally condemned the notion of a third place which the Greek Fathers had originated, which some of the schoolmen had revived, and which about the time of the Reformation was very general among the Catholics. [3:366] Calvin was in some respects more favourable to unbaptised infants than the disciples of Luther, for he taught that the children of believers were undoubtedly saved, that the intention to baptise was as efficacious as the ceremony, and that, although infant baptism should be retained, the passage in the discourse to Nicodemus which had previously been universally applied to it, was susceptible of a different interpretation. [1:367] But these doctrines arose simply from the reluctance of Calvin and his followers to admit the extraordinary efficacy of a ceremony, and not at all from any moral repugnance to the doctrine of transmitted guilt. No school declared more constantly and more emphatically the utter depravity of human nature, the sentence of perdition attaching to the mere possession of such a nature, and the eternal damnation of the great majority of infants. A few of the enthusiastic advocates of the doctrine of reprobation even denied the universal salvation of baptised infants, maintaining that the Almighty might have predestinated some of them to destruction. All of them maintained that the infants who were saved were saved on account of their connection with Christianity, and not on account of their own innocence. All of them declared that the infant came into the world steeped in guilt, and under the sentence of eternal condemnation. Jonathan Edwards, who was probably the ablest as he was one of the most unflinching of the defenders of Calvinism, has devoted to this subject all the resources of his great ingenuity. No previous writer developed more clearly the arguments which St. Augustine had derived from the death of infants, and from the pangs that accompany it; but his chief illustrations of the relations of the Deity to His creatures are drawn from those scenes of massacre when the streets of Canaan were choked with the multitude of the slain, and when the sword of the Israelite was for ever bathed in the infant's blood. [1:368]
So far, then, the Reformation seems to have made little or no change. The doctrine of Catholicism, harsh and repulsive as it appears, does not contrast at all unfavourably with those of the two great founders of dogmatic and conservative Protestantism. At a period when passions ran high, and when there was every disposition to deepen the chasm between Catholicity and the Reformed Churches -- at a period therefore when any tendency to rebel against the Catholic doctrine of transmitted guilt would have been clearly manifested, that doctrine was in all essentials fully accepted. Questions concerning the nature of the sacraments, the forms of Church government, the meaning of particular passages of Scripture, the due order and subordination of different portions of theological systems, were discussed with the most untiring and acrimonious zeal. All Europe was convulsed with controversy, and the most passionate enthusiasm was evoked. But the whole stress and energy of this enthusiasm flowed in a dogmatic channel. It was not the revolt of the reason claiming a supreme authority in the domain of thought; it was not the rebellion of the moral faculty against doctrines that collided with its teaching: or if such elements existed, they were latent and unavowed, and their position in the first ebullitions of Protestantism was entirely subordinate. The germ of Rationalism had indeed been cast abroad, but more than a century was required to develop it. There was no subtlety of interpretation connected with the eucharistic formularies that did not excite incomparably more interest than the broad questions of morality. Conscience was the last tribunal to which men would have referred as the supreme authority of their creed. There was much doubt as to what historical authorities were most valuable, but there was no doubt that the ultimate basis of theology must be historical.
To this statement there were, however, two eminent exceptions. Two theologians, who differed widely in their opinions and in their circumstances, were nevertheless actuated by the same rationalistic spirit, were accustomed to form their notions of truth and goodness by the decisions of their own reason and conscience, and, disregarding all the interpretations of tradition, to mould and adapt their creed to their ideal. These theologians were Socinus and Zuinglius. who may be regarded as the representatives of Rationalism in the first period of Protestantism.
The school of thought which Lælius Socinus contributed to plant at Vicenza, and which his more illustrious nephew, in conjunction with other Italians, spread through the greater part of Europe, was the natural result of a long train of circumstances that had been acting for centuries in Italy. The great wealth of the Italian republics, their commercial relations with men of all nations and of all creeds, the innumerable memorials of paganism that are scattered over the land, and the high æsthetic development that was general, had all in different ways and degrees contributed to produce in Italy a very unusual love of intellectual pursuits and a very unusual facility for cultivating them. Upon the fall of Constantinople, when the Greek scholars were driven into exile, bearing with them the seeds of an intellectual renovation, Italy was more than any other country the centre to which they were attracted. In the Italian princes they found the most munificent and discerning patrons, and in the Italian universities the most congenial asylums. Padua and Bologna were then the great centres of free thought. A series of professors, of whom Pomponatius appears to have been the most eminent, had pursued in these universities speculations as daring as those of the eighteenth century, and had habituated a small but able circle of scholars to examine theological questions with the most fearless scrutiny. They maintained that there were two spheres of thought, the sphere of reason and the sphere of faith, and that these spheres were entirely distinct. As philosophers, and under the guidance of reason, they elaborated theories of the boldest and most unflinching scepticism; as Catholics, and under the impulse of faith, they acquiesced in all the doctrines of their Church. [1:370] The fact of their accepting certain doctrines as a matter of faith did not at all prevent them from repudiating them on the ground of reason; and the complete separation of the two orders of ideas enabled them to pursue their intellectual speculations by a method which was purely secular, and with a courage that was elsewhere unknown. Even in Catholicism a dualism of this kind could not long continue, but it was manifestly incompatible with Protestantism, which at least professed to make private judgment the foundation of belief. Faith considered as an unreasoning acquiescence disappeared from theology, and the order of ideas which reason had established remained alone. As a consequence of all this, the Reformation in Italy was almost confined to a small group of scholars, who preached its principles to their extreme limits, with an unflinching logic, with a disregard for both tradition and consequences, and above all with a secular spirit that was elsewhere unequalled. With the peculiar tenets connected with the name of Socinus we are not now concerned, for the question of theological method is distinct from that of theological doctrines. It is, however, sufficiently manifest that although Socinus laid a far greater stress on the authority of Revelation than his followers, the prevailing sentiment which actuated him was a desire to subordinate traditional tenets to the dictates of reason and of conscience, and that his entire system of interpretation was due to this desire. It is also evident that it was this spirit that induced him to discard with unqualified severity the orthodox doctrines of the sinfulness of error and of the transmission of guilt. [1:372]
It may appear at first sight a strange paradox to represent the career of Zuinglius as in any degree parallel to that of Socinus. Certainly the bold and simple-minded pastor of Zurich, who bore with such an unflinching calm the blaze of popularity and the storms of controversy, and perished at last upon the battle-field, forms in most respects a glaring contrast to the timid Italian who spent his life in passing from court to court and from university to university, shrinking with nervous alarm from all opposition and notoriety, and instilling almost furtively into the minds of a few friends whom his gentle manners had captivated the great principles of religious toleration. Certainly, too, nothing could be further from the mind of Zuinglius than the doctrines which are known as Socinianism, nor did the antecedents of the two Reformers bear any resemblance. Yet there can, I think, be no doubt that the dominant predisposition of Zuinglius also was to interpret all tenets according to the à priori conceptions of reason and conscience. Though a man of much more than common ability, he had but slight pretensions to learning, and this, in an age when men are endeavouring to break loose from tradition, has sometimes proved a positive and a most important advantage. The tendency of his mind was early shown in the position he assumed on the eucharistic controversy. There was no single subject in which the leading Reformers wavered so much, none on which they found so great a difficulty in divesting themselves of their old belief. The voice of reason was clearly on one side, the weight of tradition reclined to the other, and the language of Scripture was susceptible of either interpretation. Luther never advanced beyond consubstantiation. Calvin only arrived at his final views after a long series of oscillations; the English Reformers can scarcely be said to have ever arrived at any definite conclusions. Zuinglius alone, from the very beginning, maintained with perfect confidence the only doctrine which accords with the evidence of the senses, stated it in language of transparent precision, and clung to it with unwavering tenacity. The same tendency was shown still more clearly in his decisions on those points in which tradition clashes with conscience. It is surely a most remarkable fact that in the age of such men as Luther and Calvin, as Melanchthon and Erasmus, Zuinglius, who in intellectual power was far inferior to several of his contemporaries, should almost alone have anticipated the rationalistic doctrine of the seventeenth century concerning the innocence of error, and the tolerance that should be accorded to it. On the subject of original sin he separated himself with equal boldness from the other leaders of the Reformation, maintaining that it was nothing more than a malady or evil tendency, and that it did not in any degree involve guilt. [1:373]
It was thus that two of the leaders of the Reformation were induced by the rationalistic character of their minds to abandon the notion of transmitted guilt, and the doctrine concerning unbaptised infants which was connected with it. If the current of opinions has since then been flowing in the same direction, this is entirely due to the increased diffusion of a rationalistic spirit, and not at all to any active propagandism or to any definite arguments. Men have come instinctively and almost unconsciously to judge all doctrines by their intuitive sense of right, and to reject or explain away or throw into the background those that will not bear the test, no matter how imposing may be the authority that authenticates them. This method of judgment, which was once very rare, has now become very general. Every generation its triumph is more manifest, and entire departments of theology have receded or brightened beneath its influence. [1:374] How great a change has been effected on the doctrine concerning unbaptised children must be manifest to any one who considers how completely the old doctrine has disappeared from popular teaching, and what a general and intense repugnance is excited by its simple statement. It was once deemed a mere truism; it would now be viewed with horror and indignation: and if we desired any further proof of the extent of this change, we should find it in the position which the Quakers and the Baptists have assumed in Christendom. It is scarcely possible to conceive any sects which in the early Church would have been regarded with more unmingled abhorrence, or would have been deemed more unquestionably outside the pale of salvation. It is no exaggeration to say that the feeling of repugnance with which men now look upon the polygamy of the Mormons presents but a very faint image of that which the Fathers would have manifested towards those who systematically withheld from their children that baptism which was unanimously pronounced to be essential to their salvation. Yet the Quakers and the Baptists have now obtained a place among the most respected sections of the Church, and in the eyes of very many Protestants the peculiarities of the second, at least, are not sufficiently serious to justify any feeling of repulsion or to prevent the most cordial coöperation. For a great change has silently swept over Christendom: without controversy and without disturbance, an old doctrine has passed away from among the realisations of mankind.
But the scope of the doctrine we are considering was not confined to unbaptised children; it extended also to all adults who were external to the Church. If the whole human race existed under a sentence of condemnation which could only be removed by connection with Christianity, and if this sentence was so stringent that even the infant was not exempt from its effects, it was natural that the adult heathen who added his personal transgressions to the guilt of Adam should be doomed at last to perdition. Nor did the Fathers who constructed the early systems of theology at all shrink from the consequence. At a time when the Christian Church formed but an infinitesimal fraction of the community, at a time when almost all the members who composed it were themselves converts from paganism, and reckoned among the pagans those who were bound to them by the closest ties of gratitude and affection, the great majority of the Fathers deliberately taught that the entire pagan world was doomed to that state of punishment which they invariably described as literal and undying fire. In any age and under any circumstances such a doctrine must seem inexpressibly shocking, but it appears most peculiarly so when we consider that the convert who accepted it, and who with a view to his own felicity proclaimed the system of which he believed it to form a part to be a message of good tidings, must have acquiesced in the eternal perdition of the mother who had borne him, of the father upon whose knees he had played, of the friends who were associated with the happy years of childhood and early manhood, of the immense mass of his fellow-countrymen, and of all those heroes and sages who by their lives or precepts had first kindled a moral enthusiasm within his breast. All these were doomed by one sweeping sentence. Nor were they alone in their condemnation. The heretics, no matter how trivial may have been their error, were reserved for the same fearful fate. The Church, according to the favourite image of the Fathers, was a solitary ark floating upon a boundless sea of ruin. Within its pale there was salvation; without it salvation was impossible. 'If any one out of Noah's ark could escape the deluge,' wrote St. Cyprian, 'he who is out of the Church may also escape.' 'Without this house,' said Origen, 'that is without the Church, no one is saved.' 'No one,' said St. Augustine, 'cometh to salvation and eternal life except he who hath Christ for his head; but no one can have Christ for his head except he that is in His body the Church.' [1:377] 'Hold most firmly,' added St. Fulgentius, 'and doubt not that not only all pagans, but also all Jews, heretics, and schismatics who depart from this present life outside the Catholic Church, are about to go into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.' [2:377] So prominent and so unquestionable was this doctrine deemed, that the Council of Carthage, in the fourth century, made it one of the test-questions put to every bishop before ordination. [3:377]
This doctrine has had a greater influence than perhaps any other speculative opinion upon the history of mankind. How different it is from the conceptions to which the great teachers of antiquity had arrived must be evident to any one who knows how fondly they cherished the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, how calmly they contemplated the approach of death. [1:378] and how hopefully they looked forward to the future. Never can men forget that noble Greek who, struck down by an unrighteous sentence, summoned around him his dearest disciples, and having reasoned with them on the immortality of the soul and the rewards of virtue and the goodness of the gods, took with a gentle smile the cup of death, and passed away thanking the god of healing who had cured him of the disease of life. That 'the just man should take confidence in death,' [2:378] that he who has earnestly, though no doubt imperfectly, tried to do his duty has nothing to fear beyond the grave, had been the consoling faith of all the best minds of antiquity. That the bold, unshackled, and impartial search for truth was among the noblest and, therefore, among the most innocent employments of mankind, was the belief which respired all the philosophies of the past. Nor was it merely or mainly in the groves of Athens that this spirit was manifested. It should never be forgotten that the rationalist has always found the highest expression of his belief in the language of the prophet, who declared that the only service the Almighty required was a life of justice, of mercy, and of humility; of the wise man, who summed up the whole duty of man in the fear of God and the observance of His commandments; of the apostle, who described true religion as consisting of charity and of purity; and of that still greater Teacher, who proclaimed true worship to be altogether spiritual, and who described the final adjudication as the separation of mankind according to their acts and not according to their opinions.
But, however this may be, the doctrine of salvation in the Church alone was unanimously adopted when Christianity passed from its moral to its first dogmatic stage, and on two occasions it conferred an inestimable benefit upon mankind. At a time when Christianity was struggling against the most horrible persecutions, and also against the gross conceptions of an age that could obtain but a very partial idea of its elevated purity, the terrorism of this doctrine became an auxiliary, little in harmony indeed with the spirit of a philanthropic religion, but admirably suited to the time, and powerful enough to nerve the martyr with an unflinching courage, and to drive the doubter speedily into the Church. Again, when the ascendency of the new faith had become manifest, it seemed for a time as if its administrative and organising function would have been destroyed by the countless sects that divided it. The passion for allegory and the spirit of eclecticism that characterised the Eastern converts, the natural subtlety of the Greek mind, and still more the disputatious philosophy of Aristotle, which the Greek heretics introduced into the Church, and which Nestorianism planted in the great school of Edessa, [1:380] had produced so many and such virulent controversies that the whole ecclesiastical fabric seemed dislocated, and intellectual anarchy was imminent. The conception of an authoritative Church was not yet fully formed, though men were keenly sensible of the importance of dogma. It is computed that there were about ninety heresies in three centuries. [2:380] Such questions as the double procession of the Holy Ghost, the proper day for celebrating Easter, the nature of the light upon Mount Tabor, or the existence in Christ of two independent but perfectly coincident wills, were discussed with a ferocity that seems almost to countenance the suggestion of Butler, that communities, like individuals, may be insane. But here again the doctrine of exclusive salvation exercised a decisive influence. As long as it was held and realised, the diversities of private judgment must have waged a most unequal warfare with the unity of authority. Men could not long rest amid the conflict of opposing arguments; they could not endure that measure of doubt which is the necessary accompaniment of controversy. All the fractions of Christianity soon gravitated to one or two great centres, and a spiritual despotism was consolidated which alone could control and temper the turbulent elements of mediæval society, could impose a moral yoke upon the most ferocious tyrants, could accomplish the great work of the abolition of slavery in Europe, and could infuse into Christendom such a measure of pure and spiritual truth as to prepare men for the better phase that was to follow it.
All this was done by the doctrine of exclusive salvation. At the Reformation, when the old Church no longer harmonised with the intellectual condition of Europe, and when the spirit of revolt was manifested on all subjects and in all countries, the doctrine was for the most part unchallenged; and although it undoubtedly produced an inconceivable amount of mental suffering, it had at least the effect of terminating rapidly the anarchy of transition. The tenacity with which it was retained by the Reformers is of course partly due to the difficulty of extricating the mind from old theological modes of thought; but it was, I think still more the result of that early tendency to depreciate the nature and the works of man which threw them naturally upon dogmatic systems. There were, indeed, few subjects on which they were so unanimous. 'The doctrine of salvation in the Church,' writes a learned living author, 'was held by all the Lutherans and Reformed, and by the sects which separated from them, as well as by the Romish and other Churches. Luther teaches that remission of sins and sanctification are only obtained in it; and Calvin says, "Beyond the bosom of the Church no remission of sins is to be hoped for, nor any salvation." The Saxon Confession, presented to the Synod of Trent A.D. 1551, the Helvetic Confession, the Belgic, the Scottish, all avow that salvation is only to be had in the Church. The Presbyterian divines assembled at Westminster, A.D. 1647, in their "Humble Advice concerning a Confession of Faith" (c. 25), declare that "the visible Church, which is also Catholique and universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the Law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion ... out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation." The Independents admitted the same.' [1:382] Nor was the position of the Anglican Church at all different. The Athanasian Creed was given an honoured place among her formularies, and the doctrine which that creed distinctly asserts was implied in several of the services of the Church, and was strongly maintained by a long succession of her divines. [2:382] Among the leading Reformers, Zuinglius, and Zuinglius alone, openly and unequivocally repudiated it. In a Confession of Faith which he wrote just before his death, and which marks an important epoch in the history of the human mind, he described in magnificent language that future 'assembly of all the saintly, the heroic, the faithful, and the virtuous,' when Abel and Enoch, Noah and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, will mingle with 'Socrates, Aristides, and Antigonus, with Numa and Camillus, Hercules and Theseus, the Scipios and the Catos,' and when every upright and holy man who has ever lived will be present with his God. [3:382] In our age, when the doctrine of exclusive salvation seldom excites more than a smile, such language appears but natural; but when it was first written it excited on all sides amazement and indignation. Luther on reading it said he despaired of the salvation of Zuinglius. Bossuet quotes the passage as a climax to his charges against the Swiss Reformer, and quotes it as if it required no comment, but was in itself sufficient to hand down its author to the contempt and indignation of posterity.
I shall now proceed to examine the more remote consequences of the doctrine of exclusive salvation, in order to trace the connection between its decline and some other remarkable features of rationalistic development. In the first place, it is manifest that the conceptions I have reviewed are so directly opposed to our natural sense of what is right and just, to all the conclusions at which those great teachers arrived who evolved their doctrines from their own moral nature, that they must establish a permanent opposition between dogmatic theology and natural religion. When the peace of the Church has long been undisturbed, and when the minds of men are not directed with very strong interest to dogmatic questions, conscience will act insensibly upon the belief, obscuring or effacing its true character. Men will instinctively endeavour to explain it away, or to dilute its force, or to diminish its prominence. But when the agitation of controversy has brought the doctrine vividly before the mind, and when the enthusiasm of the contest has silenced the revolt of conscience, theology will be developed more and more in the same direction, till the very outlines of natural religion are obliterated. Thus we find that those predestinarian theories which are commonly identified with Calvin, though they seem to have been substantially held by St. Augustine, owe their reception mainly to the previous action of the doctrine of exclusive salvation upon the mind. For the one objection to the metaphysical and other arguments the Calvinist can urge, which will always appear conclusive to the great majority of mankind, is the moral objection. It is this objection, and this alone, which enables men to cut through that entangling maze of arguments concerning freewill, foreknowledge, and predetermination, in which the greatest intellects both of antiquity and of modern days have been hopelessly involved, and which the ablest metaphysicians have pronounced inextricable. Take away the moral argument: persuade men that when ascribing to the Deity justice and mercy they are speaking of qualities generically distinct from those which exist among mankind -- qualities which we are altogether unable to conceive, and which may be compatible with acts that men would term grossly unjust and unmerciful: tell them that guilt may be entirely unconnected with a personal act, that millions of infants may be called into existence for a moment to be precipitated into a place of torment, that vast nations may live and die, and then be raised again to endure a never-ending punishment, because they did not believe in a religion of which they had never heard, or because a crime was committed thousands of years before they were in existence: convince them that all this is part of a transcendentally perfect and righteous moral scheme, and there is no imaginable abyss to which such a doctrine will not lead. You will have blotted out those fundamental notions of right and wrong which the Creator has engraven upon every heart; you will have extinguished the lamp of conscience; you will have taught men to stifle the inner voice as a lying witness, and to esteem it virtuous to disobey it. But even this does not represent the full extent of the evil. The doctrine of exclusive salvation not only destroys the moral objection to that ghastly system of religious fatalism which Augustine and Calvin constructed; it directly leads to it by teaching that the ultimate destiny of the immense majority of mankind is determined entirely irrespectively of their will. Millions die in infancy; millions live and die in heathen lands; millions exist in ranks of society where they have no opportunities for engaging in theological research; millions are so encumbered by the prejudices of education that no mental effort can emancipate them from the chain. We accordingly find that predestinarianism was in the first instance little more than a development of the doctrine of exclusive salvation. St. Augustine illustrated it by the case of a mother who had two infants. Each of these is but 'a lump of perdition;' neither has ever performed a moral act. The mother overlies one, and it perishes unbaptised; the other is baptised, and is saved.
But the doctrine of Augustine and Ambrose never seems to have been pushed in the early Church to the same extremes, or to have been stated with the same precision, as it afterwards was by the Reformers. [1:385] The mild and sagacious Erasmus soon perceived in this one of the principal evils of the Reformation, and he wrote a treatise in defence of freewill, which elicited from Luther one of the most unequivocal declarations of fatalism in the whole compass of theology, and certainly one of the most revolting. 'The human will,' said Luther, 'is like a beast of burden. If God mounts it, it wishes and goes as God wills; if Satan mounts it, it wishes and goes as Satan wills. Nor can it choose the rider it would prefer, or betake itself to him, but it is the riders who contend for its possession.' [2:385] 'This is the acme of faith, to believe that He is merciful who saves so few and who condemns so many; that He is just who at His own pleasure has made us necessarily doomed to damnation; so that, as Erasmus says, He seems to delight in the tortures of the wretched, and to be more deserving of hatred than of love. If by any effort of reason I could conceive how God could be merciful and just who shows so much anger and iniquity, there would be no need for faith.' [1:386] 'God foreknows nothing subject to contingencies, but He foresees, foreordains, and accomplishes all things by an unchanging, eternal, and efficacious will. By this thunderbolt freewill sinks shattered in the dust.' [2:386]
Such were the opinions of the greatest of the Reformers. The doctrine of Calvin and his school was equally explicit. According to them, the Fall, with all its consequences, was predetermined ages before the Creation, and was the necessary consequence of that predetermination. The Almighty, they taught, irrevocably decided the fate of each individual long before He called him into existence, and has predestinated millions to His hatred and to eternal damnation. With that object He gave them being -- with that object He withholds from them the assistance that alone can correct the perversity of the nature with which He created them. He will hate them during life, and after death He will cast them into the excruciating torments of undying fire, and will watch their agonies without compassion through the countless ages of eternity. [1:387]
It is needless to comment upon such teaching as this. That it makes the Deity the direct author of sin, [2:387] that it subverts all our notions of justice and of mercy, that the simple statement of it is inexpressibly shocking and revolting, can scarcely be denied by its warmest supporters. Indeed, when we combine this teaching with the other doctrines I have considered in the present chapter, the whole may be regarded as unequalled in the religious history of mankind. In our age such tenets have retired from the blaze of day; they are found only in the obscure writings of obscure men. Since Jonathan Edwards they have had no exponent of undoubted genius, and no distinguished writer could venture without a serious loss of reputation openly to profess them. Such language as was employed on this subject by men like Luther, Calvin, and Beza, while in the zenith of their popularity, would not now be tolerated for a moment outside a small and uninfluential circle. The rationalistic spirit has so pervaded all our habits of thought, that every doctrine which is repugnant to our moral sense excites an intense and ever-increasing aversion; and as the doctrine of exclusive salvation, which prepared the mind for the doctrine of reprobation, is no longer realised, the latter appears peculiarly revolting.
Another very important subject upon which the doctrine of exclusive salvation has exercised great influence, is the relation between dogmas and morals. The older theologians invariably attributed to dogmas an intrinsic efficacy which was entirely independent of their effect upon life. Thus we have already had occasion to observe, that in the early Church no controversies were deemed so important as those which concerned the connection between the two natures in Christ, and that at the Reformation the acceptance or rejection of transubstantiation was made the habitual test of orthodoxy. On the other hand, the politician, in a secular age, is reclined to value religious systems solely according to their influence upon the acts of mankind. He sees that religious controversies have often dislocated the social system, have presented an insuperable obstacle to the fusion of the different elements of a nation, have produced long and sanguinary wars, and have diverted a large proportion of intellect and energy from enterprises that are conducive to the welfare of society. These he considers the evils of theology, which are compensated for by the control that it exercises over the passions of mankind, by the high sense of duty it diffuses, and by the intensity of the philanthropy it inspires. His object therefore is to encourage a system in which the moral restraint shall be as great as possible, and the dogmatic elements shall be few and torpid. The rationalist occupies a central position between the two. Like the early theologian, he denies that the measure of theological excellence is entirely utilitarian; like the politician, he denies that dogmas possess an intrinsic efficacy. He believes that they are intended to act upon and develop the affective or emotional side of human nature, that they are the vehicles by which certain principles are conveyed into the mind which would otherwise never be received, and that when they have discharged their functions they must lose their importance. In the earlier phases of society men have never succeeded in forming a purely spiritual and moral conception of the Deity, and they therefore make an image which they worship. By this means the conception of the Deity is falsified and debased, but the moral influence of worship is retained: a great evil is the price of an inestimable benefit. As, however, men obtain with increasing civilisation a capacity for forming purer and more moral conceptions, idolatry becomes an unmingled evil, and is in consequence at last abandoned. Just in the same way a purely moral religion, appealing to a disinterested sense of duty and perception of excellence, can never be efficacious in an early condition of society. It is consequently materialised, associated with innumerable ceremonies, with elaborate creeds, with duties that have no relation to moral sentiments, with an ecclesiastical framework, and with a copious legendary. Through all this extraneous matter the moral essence filters down to the people, preparing them for the higher phases of development. Gradually the ceremonies drop away, the number of doctrines is reduced, the ecclesiastical ideal of life and character is exchanged for the moral ideal; dogmatic conceptions manifest an increased flexibility, and the religion is at last transfigured and regenerated, radiant in all its parts with the pure spirit that had created it.
It is manifest that according to this view there exists a perpetual antagonism between the dogmatic and the moral elements of a religious system, and that their relative influence will depend mainly on the degree of civilisation; an amount of dogmatic pressure which is a great blessing in one age being a great evil in another. Now one of the most obvious consequences of the doctrine of exclusive salvation is, that it places the moral in permanent subordination to the dogmatic side of religion. If there be a Catholic faith 'which except a man believe he cannot be saved,' it is quite natural that men should deem it 'before all things' necessary to hold it. If the purest moral life cannot atone for error, while a true religion has many means of effacing guilt, the mind will naturally turn to the doctrinal rather than to the practical side. The extent to which this tendency has been manifested in the Church of Rome is well known. Protestant controversialists have often drawn up long and perfectly authentic lists of celebrated characters who were stained with every crime, and who have nevertheless been among the favourites of the Church, who have clung to her ordinances with full orthodox tenacity, who have assuaged by her absolution every qualm of conscience, and who have at last, by endowing a monastery or undergoing a penance or directing a persecution against heretics, persuaded themselves that they had effaced all the crimes of their lives. In Protestantism this combination of devotion and immorality, which is not to be confounded with hypocrisy, is I think more rare. Lives like that of Benvenuto Cellini, in which the most atrocious crimes alternate with ecstasies of the most rapturous and triumphant piety, are scarcely ever to be met with, yet it would be rash to say that the evil is unknown. The two countries which are most thoroughly pervaded by Protestant theology are probably Scotland and Sweden; and if we measure their morality by the common though somewhat defective test that is furnished by the number of illegitimate births, the first is well known to be considerably below the average morality of European nations, while the second, in this as in general criminality, has been pronounced by a very able and impartial Protestant witness, who has had the fullest means of judging, to be very far below every other Christian nation. [1:391]
These are the contradictions that result from the doctrine of exclusive salvation among those who do not belong to a high order of sanctity, and who gladly purchase a licence for the indulgence of their passions by an assiduous cultivation of what they deem the more important side of their faith. A very much more general tendency, and one which has exercised a far more pernicious influence upon the history of mankind, is displayed by those whose zeal is entirely unselfish. Being convinced that no misfortune can be so great as heresy, and that the heretic is doomed to eternal misery, they have habitually supported their creed by imposture and falsehood. That they should do this is quite natural. Whatever may be the foundation of the moral law, it is certain that in the eyes of the immense majority of mankind there are some overwhelming considerations that will justify a breach of its provisions. If some great misfortune were to befall a man who lay on a sickbed, trembling between life and death; if the physician declared that the knowledge of that misfortune would be certain death to the patient; and if concealment was only possible by a falsehood, there are very few moralists who would condemn that falsehood. If the most ardent denouncer of 'pious frauds' were to meet an assassin in pursuit of an innocent man, and were able by misdirecting the pursuer to save the fugitive, it may be safely predicted that the lie would be unscrupulously uttered. It is not very easy to justify these things by argument, or to draw a clear line between criminal and innocent falsehood; but that there are circumstances which justify untruth has always been admitted by the common sentiment of mankind, and has been distinctly laid down by the most eminent moralists. [1:393] When therefore a man believes that those who adopt an erroneous opinion will be consigned to perdition; when he not only believes this, but realises it as a living and operative truth; and when he perceives that it is possible either by direct falsehood or by the suppression or distortion of truth to strengthen the evidences of his faith, he usually finds the temptation irresistible. But there are two very important distinctions between the hypothetical cases I have mentioned and the pious frauds of theologians. The first are the results of isolated moral judgments, while the latter are systematised and raised to the dignity of a regular doctrine. The first, again, spring from circumstances that are so extremely rare and exceptional that they can scarcely have any perceptible influence upon the general veracity of the person who utters them, while the second induce a habit of continual falsehood. The Fathers laid down as a distinct proposition that pious frauds were justifiable and even laudable; [1:394] and if they had not laid this down, they would nevertheless have practised them as a necessary consequence of their doctrine of exclusive salvation. Immediately all ecclesiastical literature became tainted with a spirit of the most unblushing mendacity. Heathenism was to be combated, and therefore prophecies of Christ by Orpheus and the Sibyls were forged, lying wonders were multiplied, and ceaseless calumnies poured upon those who, like Julian, opposed the faith. Heretics were to be convinced, and therefore interpolations of old writings or complete forgeries were habitually opposed to the forged Gospels. The veneration of relics and the monastic system were introduced, and therefore innumerable miracles were attributed to the bones of saints or to the prayers of hermits, and were solemnly asserted by the most eminent of the Fathers. [2:394] The tendency was not confined to those Eastern nations which had been always almost destitute of the sense of truth; it triumphed wherever the supreme importance of dogmas was held. Generation after generation it became more universal; it continued till the very sense of truth and the very love of truth seemed blotted out from the minds of men.
That this is no exaggerated picture of the condition at which the middle ages arrived, is known to all who have any acquaintance with its literature; for during that gloomy period the only scholars in Europe were priests and monks, who conscientiously believed that no amount of falsehood was reprehensible which conduced to the edification of the people. Not only did they pursue with the grossest calumny every enemy to their faith, not only did they encircle every saint with a halo of palpable fiction, not only did they invent tens of thousands of miracles for the purpose of stimulating devotion -- they also very naturally carried into all other subjects the indifference to truth they had acquired in theology. All their writings, and more especially their histories, became tissues of the wildest fables, so grotesque and at the same time so audacious, that they were the wonder of succeeding ages. And the very men who scattered these fictions broadcast over Christendom, taught at the same time that credulity was a virtue and scepticism a crime. As long as the doctrine of exclusive salvation was believed and realised, it was necessary for the peace of mankind that they should be absolutely certain of the truth of what they believed; in order to be so certain, it was necessary to suppress adverse arguments; and in order to effect this object, it was necessary that there should be no critical or sceptical spirit in Europe. A habit of boundless credulity was therefore a natural consequence of the doctrine of exclusive salvation; and not only did this habit necessarily produce a luxuriant crop of falsehood, it was itself the negation of the spirit of truth. For the man who really loves truth cannot possibly subside into a condition of contented credulity. He will pause long before accepting any doubtful assertion, he will carefully balance opposing arguments, he will probe every anecdote with scrupulous care, he will endeavour to divest himself of every prejudice, he will cautiously abstain from attributing to probabilities the authority of certainties. These are the essential characteristics of the spirit of truth, and by their encouragement or suppression we can judge how far a system of doctrine coincides with that spirit.
We have seen that there were three ways in which the indissoluble association of salvation with a particular form of belief produced or promoted the absolute indifference to truth and the boundless credulity that characterised the ages in which theology was supreme. It multiplied to an enormous extent pious frauds, which were perpetrated without scruple because they were supposed to produce inestimable benefits to mankind. It rendered universal that species of falsehood which is termed misrepresentation, and which consists mainly of the suppression of all opposing facts; and it crushed that earnestness of enquiry which is at once the essential characteristic of the love of truth, and the sole bulwark against the encroachments of error. There was, however, yet another way, which, though very closely connected with the foregoing, is sufficiently distinct to claim a separate consideration.
A love of truth, by the very definition of the terms, implies resolution under all circumstances to approach as nearly as possible to its attainment; or in other words, when demonstration is impossible, to adopt the belief which seems most probable. In this respect there is an important difference between speculative and practical life. He who is seeking for truth is bound always to follow what appears to his mind to be the stress of probabilities; but in action it is sometimes wise to shape our course with a view to the least probable contingency; because we have to consider not merely the comparative probabilities of success afforded by different courses, but also the magnitude of the results that would ensue. Thus, a man is justly regarded as prudent who insures his house against fire, though an absolute and unrequited loss is the most probable consequence of his act; because the loss he would suffer in the more probable contingency is inconsiderable, and the advantage he would derive from the insurance in the less probable contingency is very great. From this consideration Pascal -- who with Fermat was the founder of what may be termed the scientific treatment of probabilities -- derived a very ingenious argument in defence of his theological opinions, which was afterwards adopted by an English mathematician named Craig. [1:397] They contended, that when a religious system promises infinite rewards and threatens infinite punishments, it is the part of a wise man to sacrifice the present to embrace it, not merely if he believes the probabilities to preponderate in its favour, but even if he regards its truth as extremely improbable, provided the probabilities against it are not infinite. Now, as long as such an argument is urged simply with a view of inducing men to adopt a certain course of action, it has no necessary connection with morals, and should be judged upon prudential grounds. [1:398] But the case becomes widely different when to adopt the least probable course means to acknowledge a Church which demands as the first condition of allegiance an absolute and heartfelt belief in the truth of what it teaches. When this is the case, the argument of Pascal means, and only can mean, that men should by the force of will compel themselves to believe what they do not believe by the force of reason; that they should exert all their efforts, by withdrawing their attention from one side and concentrating it upon the other, and by the employment of the distorting influences of the affections, to disturb the results of their judgment. Nor is this merely the speculation of some isolated mathematicians; it is a principle that is constantly acted on in every society which is governed by the doctrine we are considering. [2:398] Mere sophisms or imperfect reasonings have a very small place in the history of human error; the intervention of the will has always been the chief cause of delusion. Under the best circumstances we can but imperfectly guard against its influence; but wherever the doctrine of exclusive salvation is held, it is reduced to a system and regarded as a virtue.
Certainly, whatever opinion may be held concerning the general tendencies of the last three centuries, it is impossible to deny the extraordinary diffusion of a truthful spirit, as manifested both in the increased intolerance of what is false and in the increased suspicion of what is doubtful. This has been one of the general results of advancing civilisation to which all intellectual influences have converged, but the improvement may be said to date more especially from the writings of the great secular philosophers of the seventeenth century. These philosophers destroyed the old modes of thought, not by the force of direct polemical discussion, but by introducing a method of enquiry and a standard of excellence incompatible with them. They taught men to esteem credulity discreditable, to wage an unsparing war against their prejudices, to distrust the verdicts of the past, and to analyse with cautious scrutiny the foundation of their belief. They taught them, above all, to cultivate that love of truth for its own sake which is perhaps the highest attribute of humanity; which alone can emancipate the mind from the countless influences that enthral it, and guide the steps through the labyrinth of human systems; which shrinks from the sacrifice of no cherished doctrine, and of no ancient tie; and which, recognising in itself the reflex of the Deity, finds in itself its own reward.
The conspicuous place which Bacon, Descartes, and Locke have obtained in the history of the human mind, depends much less on the originality of their doctrines or their methods than on the skill with which they developed and diffused them. Long before Descartes, St. Augustine had anticipated the 'cogito ergo sum;' but that which St. Augustine had thrown out as a mere truism, or, at best, as a passing suggestion, Descartes converted into the basis of a great philosophy. Half a century before Bacon, Leonardo da Vinci had discovered the superiority of the inductive method, and had clearly stated its principles; but even if Leonardo had published his work, it may be safely asserted that the magnificent development of Bacon was necessary to make that method supreme in science. Each of these great men attacked with vast ability and marvellous success some intellectual vice which lay at the very root of the old habits of thought. Descartes taught that the beginning of all knowledge was the rejection of every early prejudice, and a firm resolution to bring every opinion to the test of individual judgment. Locke taught the necessity of mapping out the limits of human faculties, and by his doctrine concerning innate ideas, and above all by his masterly analysis of Enthusiasm, he gave the deathblow to the opinions of those who would remove a certain class of mental phenomena altogether from the jurisdiction of the reason. [1:400] Bacon, whose gigantic intellect made excursions into every field, was pre-eminently noted for his classification of the idola or distorting influences that act on the mind, and for his constant injunction to correct theory by confronting it with facts. Descartes also, in addition to the vast intrinsic value of his works, had the immense merit of doing more than any previous writer to divorce philosophy from erudition, and to make it an appeal to the reasoning powers of ordinary men. The schoolmen, though they had carried philosophical definition almost to the highest conceivable point of perfection, had introduced a style of disquisition so pedantic and monotonous, so full of subtle distinctions and endless repetitions, that all but the most patient students were repelled by their works; while their constant appeal to authority, and the fact that they wrote only in Latin, excluded those who were but little learned from the discussion. The great prominence academic prælections obtained about the time of the Reformation contributed, I imagine, largely to introduce a simpler and more popular style. Rather more than sixty years before 'The Method' of Descartes, Ramus, in his 'Dialectics,' had set the example of publishing a philosophical work in French, and Bruno had thrown some of his dreamy speculations into Italian; but neither of these men was sufficiently able to form a new epoch in the history of philosophy, and their ends were not calculated to encourage imitators -- the first having been murdered by the Catholics on the night of St. Bartholomews and the second burnt alive at Rome by the Pope. Descartes more than any one else was the author of what may be called the democratic character of philosophy, and this is not the least of his merits. The influence of Locke and Bacon, again, was especially powerful as a corrective of the old tendency to fiction, on account of a certain unimaginative character that was exhibited by the philosophies of both -- a character that was perfectly congenial to the intellect of Locke, but very remarkable in the case of Bacon, among whose great faculties imagination occupied an almost disproportionate prominence. That this feature of the Baconian philosophy is at present exercising a decidedly prejudicial influence on the English intellect, by producing an excessive distaste for the higher generalisations, and for all speculations that do not lead directly to practical results, has been maintained by many Continental writers, and by at least three of the most eminent English ones. [1:402] It is, indeed, quite true that Bacon never went in this respect so far as some of his disciples. He certainly never made utility the sole object of science, or at least never restricted utility to material advantages. He asserted in the noblest language the superiority of abstract truth to all the fruits of invention, [2:402] and would never have called those speculations useless which form the intellectual character of an age. Yet, on the other hand, it must be acknowledged that the general tone of his writings, the extraordinary emphasis which he laid upon the value of experiments, and above all upon the bearing of his philosophy on material comforts, represents a tendency which was very naturally developed into the narrowest utilitarianism. Those who regarded natural science simply as the minister to the material comforts of mankind were the disciples of Bacon, in much the same sense as Condillac and his followers were the disciples of Locke: they did not accurately represent the doctrines of their master, but they represented the general tendency of his teaching.
But, whatever may be thought of the influence which the inductive philosophy now exercises on the English mind, there can be no doubt that both that philosophy and the essay of Locke were peculiarly fatal to the mediæval modes of thought on account of the somewhat plodding character they displayed. By enlarging the domain of the senses, by making experience the final test of truth, and by greatly discouraging the excursions of theorists, they checked the exuberance of the European imagination, imparted an air of grotesqueness to the wild fictions that had so long been received, and taught men to apply tests both to their traditions and to their emotions which divested them of much of their apparent mystery. It was from the writings of Locke and Bacon that Voltaire and his followers drew the principles that shattered the proudest ecclesiastical fabrics of Europe, and it is against these philosophers that the ablest defenders of mediæval theology have exhibited the most bitter animosity. [1:403]
It was thus that the great teachers of the seventeenth century, who were themselves but the highest representatives of the tendencies of their age, disciplined the minds of men for impartial enquiry, and, having broken the spell that so long had bound them, produced a passionate love of truth which has revolutionised all departments of knowledge. It is to the impulse which was then communicated that may be traced the great critical movement which has renovated all history, all science, all theology -- which has penetrated into the obscurest recesses, destroying old prejudices, dispelling illusions, rearranging the various parts of our knowledge and altering the whole scope and character of our sympathies. But all this would have been impossible but for the diffusion of a rationalistic spirit obscuring or destroying the notion of the guilt of error. For, as we have seen, whenever the doctrine of exclusive salvation is generally believed and realised, habits of thought will be formed around it that are diametrically opposed to the spirit of enquiry and absolutely incompatible with human progress. An indifference to truth, a spirit of blind and at the same time wilful credulity, will be encouraged, which will multiply fictions of every kind, will associate enquiry with the ideas of danger and of guilt, will make men esteem that impartiality of judgment and study which is the very soul of truth, an unholy thing, and will so emasculate their faculties as to produce a general torpor on every subject. For the different elements of our knowledge are so closely united that it is impossible to divide them into separate compartments, and to make a spirit of credulity preside over one compartment while a spirit of enquiry is animating the others. In the middle ages theology was supreme, and the spirit of that theology was absolute credulity, and the same spirit was speedily diffused through all forms of thought. In the seventeenth century the preëminence of theology was no longer decisive, and the great secular writers introduced a love of impartiality and of free research which rapidly passed from natural science and metaphysics into theology, and destroyed or weakened all those doctrines which were repugnant to it. It was between the writings of Bacon and Locke that Chillingworth taught, for the first or almost for the first time in England, the absolute innocence of honest error. It was between the writings of Bacon and Locke that that latitudinarian school was formed which was irradiated by the genius of Taylor, Glanvil, and Hales, and which became the very centre and seedplot of religious liberty. It was between the same writings that the writ De Hæretico comburendo was expunged from the Statute Book, and the soil of England for the last time stained with the misbeliever's blood!
END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
[End of Fourth Chapter (first part)]
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