Изображения страниц
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

But let us further examine the share of experience in the system of Renan. He has employed it, if not thoroughly and consistently, at least with unflinching bravery. It would not be necessary to follow his steps so carefully, and support our assertions so diligently with express citations, were his works generally accessible to our public. This must excuse a somewhat prolix discussion. For once the game is worth the candle. Any denial of the possibility of the miracles of the Gospel must logically include the denial of all miracles. Especially must it embrace CREATION, the first of miracles. It must involve the negation of the divine creation of matter and the material universe; of animals, including man; and of angels and demons. Experience knows nothing of these supposed facts; but it is not content to say that it knows nothing.

To flee beyond history to periods where attestation is impossible, in order to shun the need of attesting historic miracles, is taking refuge behind a cloud, proving an obscure thing by something more obscure, disputing a known law on account of a fact with which we are unacquainted. People invoke miracles that took place before any witness existed, for want of being able to cite a well-attested miracle. . . . But these phenomena had their causes at the hour when they appeared. ... If it is doubtful whether we shall ever succeed in artificially producing life, it is because the reproduction of the circumstances in which life began, if it did begin, may perhaps be always out of our power. How shall we bring back a planetary condition now vanished for thousands of years ? How make an experiment that demands ages ? ... Surely the formation of humanity, if we suppose it sudden and instantaneous, is the most offensive and absurd thing in the world.* To recur to a supernatural intervention to explain facts which have become impossible in the present state of the world, is proof that we are ignorant of the concealed forces of spontaneity.

Here is plainly enough a negation of any supernatural creation. But Renan is not satisfied with this negative result of experience; he puts forward a positive statement which can only be justified by the most conclusive facts in its favor. Yet he does not produce such facts, nor yield us the least hint where to seek them. “Science demonstrates that on a certain day, by virtue of natural laws which until then had presided over the development of things, without excetpion or exterior intervention, thinking beings appeared gifted with all their faculties, * Les Apôtres, Introduction, p. 47. + Études d'Histoire Religieuse, p. 199.

FOURTH SERIES, VOL. XXII.--2 050 M59 1,52

and perfect in their essential elements."* We hear much, in this connection, of nature, natural laws, conditions of life, evolution through myriad ages, etc. ; we shall presently see why we hear nothing of a Creator. It follows as an indispensable result of this theory of the inflexible government of the world by natural law, that Renan rejects all providential action in earthly things. How could he, who will not allow the operation of God's hand in making the world, admit a watchfulness of Deity over the petty, daily fortunes of the humblest of men? Kingdoms and empires, languages and civilizations, mythologies and religions, rise and fall without any notice from God. Certainly the formation of Christianity is the greatest fact in the religious history of the world. But it is not therefore miraculous. Buddhism and Babism have had as numerous, enthusiastic, and resigned martyrs as Christianity.”+ We do not comment on this strange assertion, for a stranger one is soon to relieve us of that task. Experience so incapable of finding miracles in the origin of the world and of men, in the appearance of Christ and the foundation of the Church, cannot promise us much for the future. Experience knows only the past and the present. Let not the human race dream of obtaining from her lips an assurance of its immortality. But we are not to suppose that experience will be so modest in Renan's hands as to say nothing about our hopes of a future life. At the close of his long study on the Book of Job, Renan takes pains to tell us his convictions on this interesting topic. He thinks Job and his friends were without real light on the subject, and the three thousand years that separate them from 11s have made no additions to our knowledge. The future of individual man has grown no clearer. He who finds truth, who loves the beautiful, will be immortal; not in himself, however, but in his work. While the wicked and frivolous shall entirely perish, in the sense that they will transmit nothing to the future in the general result of the toil of their kind, the good and noble man shares in the immortality of what he has loved. The hope of the resurrection of the dead is a dream, vain as any that ever visited the brain of slumber. Never shall God have a desire to the work of his hands; never shall Jehovah call from the sky, and aroused humanity respond to that

Études d'Histoire Religieuse, p. 217. + Les Apôtres, Introduction, p. 49.


[ocr errors]

call from the grave.

Christ rotted in some obscure corner. He is not the first-fruits of them that sleep. Renan tells us that though obscurity enwraps the course of the world, it moves toward God. God, the heavenly Father, and similar terms, abound in his writings. It sometimes chances that he nises them in ways not strictly consistent with his real views. This happens on other themes than that which we now consider. Though his idea of iinmortality be such as we have just stated, yet he allows himself to say of Lamennais, “He now knows the key to the enigina which he so courageously tried to solve."* The dedication of “ The Life of Jesus” to the pure spirit of his sister Henrietta, whom he had lost at Byblos, seems to imply faith in her continued existence. How else could he exclaim, “ Reveal to me, O Good Genius—to me whom thou didst lovethose truths which rule death, remove its fear, and almost make it beloved.” This is sentiment, rhetoric, poesy, which its author loves as a fond illusion, not as pure reality. We need to affirm this the more distinctly and earnestly because Renan speaks of his sister's spirit as in the bosom of God. On this theme, where reverence and simplicity are enjoined, Renan appears to delight in mystification. Sainte-Beuve, whose critical sagacity nothing escapes, notes this disposition to give us a glowing but misleading image just where we want simple words. This critic, who knows how to insinuate adverse judgment in a compliment, condemns that procedure by saying that others praise it, while withholding his own applause. But men cannot always lose themselves in clouds, though they be the golden clouds of imagination. This happened to Renan. He who had one day spoken of “the mysterious affinity which we feel with the abyss, our father,” and had also declared that “ God does not reveal himself in miracles but to the heart,”+ was once asked plumply what he meant by such words. M. Guéroult, of the Opinion Nationale, had not been able to understand the notions of Renan on our “ feeling of obscure relations with the infinite, of a divine filiation.” In these days the editor is father-confessor to every body; thus summoned, the author of “ The Life of Jesus” was forced to respond. He said:

You admit that science cannot prove the existence of a free being, superior to man, intervening in nature to change its course. • Essais de Morale et Critiq., p. 203. + Chaire d'Hebreu ani Col. de Franco.

[ocr errors]


But, you add, can science prove positively that such a being does not exist ? I shall not inquire whether we can metaphysically and à priori prove that. But the experimental proof suffices. Never has such a being revealed himself in a scientifically attested

When he shall reveal himself we will believe in him.* This is surely explicit enough, and would apparently justify a charge of downright Atheism. But we here deal with a subtile intellect that must be heard to the end of the chapter. It is only by following him in all his winding paths, by listening to this and to that, and finally combining all you have learned, that you will ever surprise his real convictions. On the subject of Providence he speaks boldly:

Providence, understood in the vulgar fashion, is synonymous with thaumaturgy The simple question is, whether God puts forth particular acts. For myself, I think that the true providence is not distinct from the constant, divine, clearly wise, just and good order of the laws of the universe. +

The connection here shows, that by “particular acts,” Renan means acts that bring to pass in nature effects that do not proceed from nature. He proceeds :

You seem, dear sir, to think that such a doctrine is synonymous with Atheism. I earnestly protest. This doctrine excludes the capricious, thaumaturgic God who acts at intervals, commonly lets the clouds follow their course, but turns them aside for prayer; leaves a lung or viscera to decompose up to a certain point, but then arrests the decomposition on account of a vow; who changes his mind, in a word, from selfish views. Such a God, I admit, is anti-scientific. We do not believe in such a God, and should the saddest consequences ensue, the absolute sincerity which we profess would oblige us to say so. I

Surely the casual reader who stumbles upon such evident contradictions as these, need not be very severely blamed if he accuses their author either of a want of clear and coherent views or of deliberate obscurity. The denial of Atheism is earnest and vigorous enough, but the ground for it is not clear. Can it be that Renan dreads the odium of Atheism ? Does he fear that it may stand in the way of his preferment? In his discussion of the religious future of modern society, he had plainly declared that “ Deism, which pretends to be scientific, is no more so than religion; it is an abstract mythology, but a mythology. It requires miracles; its God, interfering

• L'Athèisme Scientifique, p. 18. + Ditto, p. 19. # Ibid, p. 19.

providentially in the course of the world, does not differ in reality from that of Joshua arresting the sun." But, pleads Sainte-Beuve, he has also said, “Humanity is of transcendental nature, Quis deus incertum est, habitat deus."*

Here we light again on the contradictions which are so dear to Renan. We are reminded that he believes contradiction, many-sidedness being the trait of all rich natures; these only find truth, for that dwells entirely in the shading or gradation of things. Here, too, we see upon what grounds his admirers claim that he truly and profoundly religious. In all his works there is so much said about God, duty, humanity, immortality, the worship of trnth, beauty, and goodness, that people naturally exclaim, This man must be religious! We do not question that conclusion; but we insist on knowing in what sense religion is possible to a man who holds this language on God, Providence, Miracles, and Immortality. So far as a thorough examination of his writings can justify such a statement, we are entitled to say that there is only one passage in them all that can furnish the true guiding clew in this most perplexing confusion. It occurs in Renan's critique on Feuerbach. The new Hegelian school in philosophy, as is well known, is purely and avowedly atheistic. Now Feuerbach is the ablest representa tive of that pitiless tribe of thinkers. Renan sets forth that they teach that Theism, Natural Religion, in short, every system which admits any thing transcendental, should be classed with Supernaturalism. Belief in God or human immortality is as superstitious as belief in the Trinity or miracles. Any thought of another world, any glance of man beyond himself, beyond reality, all religious emotion, clothed in whatever form, is mere delusion. Renan comments as follows:

Not to be severe toward such a philosophy, we must look upon it as a misunderstanding. Influenced by the bad examples that prevail in German universities, the Teutonic thinker often plumes himself on an Atheism which is not real. When a German boasts his impiety, he must never be taken at his word. The Teuton is not capable of being irreligious ; religion, that is, aspiration toward the ideal world, is the basis of his nature. Even his Atheism is devout and unctuous.

Then Renan speaks of his own views. For once he lays bare his inmost soul to our eyes. He is about to tell us the true truth, his attermost thought, on these high matters :

* See Sainte-Beuve's articles on Renan.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »