Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

a

Should any one, from the stand-point of substance, ask me, Does this God exist or not? I would reply, “O! God! He exists; all else but seems to exist." Then, as usual, he refines a little, appears to admit that for philosophers some other word would be better than God; but as the word God is in possession of the respect of mankind, and especially as priceless poetic associations are connected with it, he advises its retention. 66 Tell the simple to live in aspiration for truth, beauty, and moral goodness, they would find no meaning in your words. But bid them love God, not to offend God, they will understand you to a marvel. God, Providence and Immortality, old words all and a trifle heavy, perhaps, which philosophy will constantly interpret in a more refined way, but wbich she can never replace with advantage. Under one form or another, God will always be the summary of our supersensual needs, the form under which we conceive the ideal, as time and space are forms under which we conceive bodies. In other terms, man, in the presence of the beautiful, the true, and the good, escapes himself, and, in suspense under a celestial charm, annihilates his petty personality, is inspired and absorbed. What is that, if not adoration ?”

One might be excused froin pretending to understand all this, and for doubting whether the author always had a clear meaning in his own mind in writing such pages; yet it yields the best light we have on Renan's ideas. To be sure, SainteBeuve asserted in 1862, when Renan needed a skillful friend, that he had since retracted, or rather retouched, this idea of God, and had become a real Theist. The plea of the distinguished critic in favor of his nebulous friend is a masterpiece in its dexterity of insinuation, and its adroitness in imposing & conclusion without showing cause. But then, in the Life of Jesus and in the Apostles, since published, Renan asserts the rejection of the supernatural afresh on the same ground of experience. Now, the experience that can find no creation, no miraculous establishment of Christianity by an immediate divine act, how shall it find God ? We have seen that it cannot. Moreover, Renan has taken pains to refute the ingenious sophistry of his friend. There has been, he tells M. Guéroult, no scientific attestation of the existence of any being superior to man, who interferes with the usual course of things. “When he reveals himself, we will believe in him.Such a retouching of his first utterance may well close the lips of the apologist. Had Renan found any thing in the natural world for whose production natural laws were insufficient, any thing in human history that man could not bring forth, he might look

[ocr errors]

about him for a God. Do not ask him whence matter came! Who gave it its marvelous laws? How life first appeared on the globe? He has a vanished eternity, into whose awful and mysterious depths he can flee, planetary conditions which have long ago expired, wherein his fancy may have free play; and other planets where even now these miracles may be transpiring in an orderly development under constant natural laws. Here the essential thing is not to explain every thing, but to gain the conviction that with greater light every thing might be explained. He is sure that thinking beings must be the sons of these laws of nature; and yet he confesses that “to try to explain the appearance of man on earth by the laws that rule the phenomena of our globe since nature has ceased to create, would be opening the door to such extravagant fancies that no serious mind would pause there a moment."* He also asserts that “it is indubitable that man on a given day, by the natural and spontaneous expansion of his facnlties, improvised language.”* Here, again, we cannot conceive how this invention was effected. It should be remembered, likewise, that these statements are presented by a man who tells us that experience shows no God, not as fanciful conjectures, but as acquired scientific results. Risum teneatis, amici? Monotheism is easily explained on the biblical theory of a supernatural revelation. But since Renan holds that all theologies have sprung from the mind of man, his task in explaining it is more difficult. He admits that India, which has shown such originality, rich variety, and depth in her thinking, has not yet reached this truth, and that Greece, with all her intellectual vigor, would never have brought the world to it but for the aid of the Semitic nations. How did these people, whose range of mind is so much narrower than that of those races which have accepted Monotheism from their lips, first attain this high conception? For once Renan does not say I know, but I think; and his thoughts are feeble and contradictory. In opposition to his statement that Greece and India, with their amazing philosophical developments, never reached this notion, he affirms that, at a certain stage of its progress, the human mind becomes necessarily monotheistic. But here the contradiction grows flagrant; Greece, Rome, and India, then, should long ago have reached that stage of devel

• Etudes d'Histoire Religieuse, p. 217. + Ibid.,

p. 217.

a

opment, and, much earlier than Judea and Arabia, have necessarily accepted Monotheism. The theorist feels this, and he contradicts himself afresh by telling us that there are monotheistic as well as polytheistic races.* Yet, according to his previous remark, no race is strictly monotheistic or polytheistic; all men should be polytheistic up to a certain stage of intellectual progress and then and there become monotheistic. But certain tribes became monotheistic long before they had reached the required limit, and others long ago passed it without giving up Polytheism. It was a Frenchman who said that a fact is brutal. Alas! had poor, dumb, wronged facts a voice, what might not they say of philosophers! The Semitic nations are naturally monotheistic, pursues Renan, and they reached the notion of One and the Supreme Deity without an effort in their earliest days, and by an immediate intuition. If that were true, it would impose on us a very singular and difficult problem, namely, How could a nation or race exceed all other civilized nations and races in its philosophy on this important topic and yet remain so infinitely behind the rest in all other branches of speculation ? An intuition so profound in one matter and so shallow in all others would be a true miracle. This diffi. culty must be evaded, and so we are told that the desert is monotheistic, and that it whispered the sublime secret to its

Here, then, are three explanations of Monotheism: intellectual progress in all men issuing of necessity in that conclusion; monotheistic races who reach that truth by intuition; and the monotheistic desert which will have no Polytheism on its bosom. You may accept any of these that best flatters your preferences. Thus our author lavishes contradiction upon con tradiction in his fruitless effort to escape the supernatural issue from the difficulty : “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord.” These shifts and evasions follow necessarily from existing facts, if the supernatural be cast aside. Whether they disclose the wisdom of that proceeding is not so clear. As we see Renan struggling with all these problems, we admire his courage, and are reminded of Megara's words about Hercules :

"Inveniet viam Aut faciet."

• Etudes d'Histoire Religieuse, p. 66.

Art. II. – ON THE POWER OF MIND OVER NATURE.

Man and Nature; or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. By

GEO. P. MARSH. New York: Charles Scribner. 1865. Nature and the Supernatural, as together constituting the One System of God. By

HORACE BUSHNELL. New York: Charles Scribner. 1858. Principles of Geology. By Sir CHARLES LYELL. New York: Appleton & Co.

1857. Reign of Law. By the Duke of Argyll. London: Alexander Strahan. 1867. Essays. Philosophical and Theological. By JAMES MARTINEAU. Boston: Wm. V.

Spencer. 1866. (“Nature and God.")

[ocr errors]

“A GREAT work might be written on the connection betweep the revolutions of nature and those of mankind : how they act each upon the other; how man is affected by climate, and how climate is again altered by the labor of man; how diseases are generated; how different states of society are exposed to different disorders; how, as all earthly things are exhaustible, the increased command over nature given by increased intelligence, seems to have a tendency to shorten the period of the existing creation by calling at once into action those resources of the earth which else might have supplied the wants of centuries to come; how, in short, nature, no less than human society, contains tokens that it had a beginning, and will surely have its end." *

The above passage from Dr. Arnold's “ History of Rome” is one of those suggestive utterances occasionally met in the writings of great men, which are fruitful of many thoughtsone of those passages which give a mighty impulse to our own minds, and laying down the book, we start a voyage on our own account. We remember former thoughts which have flashed across our minds that were, somehow, strikingly akin to those which are now suggested. We recall numerous facts which have come under our observation, or have been observed and recorded by others, which crystallize around this one grand idea. We proceed to draw new inferences therefrom, and we catch glimpses of some higher principle, some more general law, which underlies the whole. And now, if we are ardent students, we shall reduce our facts and inductions to some methodical arrangement, and write them down.

Thos. Arnold, D. D. 'History of Rome," p. 190.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

In some such way this passage from Arnold affected our own mind, and led us to reflect on the power of mind over material nature. We now present some of our thoughts to the readers of the Quarterly Review, in the hope they inay stimulate further investigation and study in this interesting field.

It is of the utmost importance in all inquiries, especially so in this, that we are precise and exact in the use of terms. If we remember rightly, it is said by Coleridge that in the Arabic language there are a thousand names for the Lion. This, to say the least of it, must be a serious inconvenience. But it would have been worse than inconvenient if the Arabic for “Lion” had also a thousand other meanings. No one can imagine the misconception and confusion which must have arisen from the use of a word which might have been understood or misunderstood a thousand ways.

We are, however, in well-nigh such a predicament in regard to our English word "Nature" and its derivatives. To be sure, it has not a thousand meanings; yet there is not a more indefinite word in use among the English-speaking nations. Men talk fluently about “the laws of nature," the order of nature,” “the uniformity of nature," and sometimes of “eternal nature,” without any settled and definite idea of the import of such expressions. At one time the term “nature" is used to denote the essential qualities of a thing, which constitute it what it is, as “the nature of light, heat, electricity,” etc. At another time, as denoting that by which the qualities or constitution of a thing or being are determined, we say “nature has done this or that;" "nature has given this man rare endowments, or left that man strangely deficient !" In the writings of some, nature comprehends the sum of all phenomena—the universe of created beings—the earth with all its furniture, its plants and animals, and tribes of men; the sun and planets, the double stars, and remotest nebulæ. In the language of others, it means something underlying all phenomena-an impersonal power or agent which is the informing soul of the universe, and cause of all its movement and change. Sometimes it is used to designate material existence as contradistinguished from mind; at other times, as embracing both. In one book it stands for created, dependent existence; in another, it includes

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »