« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
affection ; for we take pleasure in our own sentiments only when they are attached to the universal sentiment. We do not love to nourish an opinion which no one shares with us. We aspire, for our thoughts as well as for our conduct, to the approbation of others; and we ask an external sanction to complete our internal satisfaction. Hence the nenessity of religious institutions, the reason why the sentiment is always clothed with some form.
But every positive form, however satisfactory it may be for the present, contains a germ of opposition to future progress. It contracts, by the very effect of its duration, a
. stationary character, that refuses to follow the intellect in its discoveries, and the soul in its emotions, which each day renders more pure and delicate. Forced to borrow images more and more material, in order to make the greater impression upon its adherents, the religious form soon comes to present man, wearied with this world, only another very little different. The ideas it suggests are daily narrowed down to the terrestrial ideas, of which they are only a copy, and the epoch arrives when it presents to the mind only assertions which it cannot admit, and to the soul only practices which can no longer satisfy it. The sentiment now breaks away from that form, which, if one may so speak, has become petrified; it asks another form, one which will not wound it, and it ceases not its exertions till it obtains it. Here is the history of religion ; but without the distinction between the sentiment and the form, it would be for ever unintelligible. The sentiment is lodged in the bottom of the soul, always the same, unalterable, and eternal; the form is variable and transitory.
But if the form be variable and transitory, it is not by accident that the sentiment combines now with this form, and now breaks from it to combine with another. That which we worship is always the highest worth of which we can form any conception. We always embody in our religious institutions, all our ideas of the true, the beautiful, and the good. Consequently, the object of our worship, and the religious institutions we adopt, or the form with which we clothe the religious sentiment, will always be exactly proportioned to our mental developement and moral progress. At every epoch, there is cherished and defended, as pure a form of religion, as the general civilization of that
Man is a pro
epoch will admit. The lowest, the grossest form of religion is fetichism. But, low and gross as this form of religion is, it is the purest and the most elevated, which the minds and the hearts of the tribes who adopt it can grasp, and nothing better, more spiritual, can be received, till there be an advance in civilization. Yet this form, miserable as it may seem at more advanced stages of mental and moral progress, is good and useful when adopted. It then responds to the wants of the soul, is in harmony with the lights of the understanding, and has a binding tie upon the conscience. It is at that epoch desirable, has an important mission to accomplish.
But the correspondence between this form and the wants of the mind and the heart, is soon broken. gressive being. The institutions which he adopts to-day help him onward; but as they do not advance with him, he has soon outgrown them, and begun the work of exchanging them for others. The religious sentiment itself is the very spirit of progress. It labors unceasingly to purify the form with which it is combined. It is for ever struggling to enlarge the sphere of its activity. It demands a broader horizon; it shoots off into the unknown, rises to the infinite, and seizes upon the perfect. Left to the work
, ings of this interior sentiment, man would march onward with an uninterrupted progress, and every day become able to conceive a nobler object of worship, and to embody more of excellence in his form of religion. The unyielding nature of every religious form, combined with the influence of the sacerdotal corporations, which always have an interest in perpetuating the existing order, whatever it may be, interrupts, however, this regular progress, and keeps him wedded to the low and the worthless form, from which he should long since have been divorced. But, if interrupted, suspended, progress cannot be wholly prevented. Fetichism ceases to be in harmony with civilization. Its mission ends, and a new religious form is demanded. Polytheism is elaborated, improved, perfected, but in its turn it must yield to theism, to the theism of Christianity.
Each religious form has three epochs. At first, man seizes upon a religion, – that is, following bis instinct, directed by the lights of his understanding, he seeks to discover the relations which exist between him and invisible
When he believes he has discovered these relations, he gives them a regular and determinate form. Having provided for this first craving of his nature, he developes and perfects his other faculties. But his very successes render the form, which he had given to his religious ideas, disproportioned to his developed and perfected faculties. Now begins the second epoch. From this moment the destruction of that form is inevitable. The polytheism of the Iliad no longer comporting with the age of Pericles, Euripides, in his tragedies, becomes the organ of a nascent irreligion.
If the old creed be prolonged by institutions, sacerdotal corporations, or other means, the human race, during this factitious prolongation, is furnished only with an existence purely mechanical, in which there is nothing of life. Faith and enthusiasm desert religion, and there are left only forinulas, observances, and priests. But this forced state has its limits. A conflict commences, not only between the established religion and the understanding which it insults, but between it and the religious sentiment, which it has ceased to satisfy. This conflict brings about the third epoch, - the annihilation of the form, which stirred up rebellion ; and hence the crises of complete unbelief, crises, disorderly, sometimes terrible, but inevitable, when man wants to be delivered from what has become, and hereafter can be, only a bar to improvement. These crises are always followed by a form of religious ideas better suited to the faculties of the human mind, and religion comes forth from its ashes, with a new youth, purer, and more beautiful.
This distinction between the religious sentiment, and the religious form, is very necessary to be made. It explains many of the phenomena, which occur in the history of religion. This explains wherefore it is, that men of virtuous lives, of ardent enthusiasm, of generous devotion to liberty, and to the welfare of their fellow beings, have, at times, opposed themselves to religion. They are men who have outgrown the established form. It no longer responds to the wants of their souls, no longer comports with their understanding, nor comes up to their ideas of the perfect. They rebel against it, and the religious sentiment itself in them is found combating a religious form, which galls it, and restrains its free and healthy action. This explains the
existence, and the great influence of certain infidel writers. Writers are the organs of their age. They collect and bring out the ideas of their times. Had Lucian been placed in the age of Homer, or merely in that of Pindar, had Voltaire been born under Louis ix., or Louis XI., Lucian and Voltaire had not even attempted to shake the belief of their contemporaries, or would have attempted it in vain. They' were less indebted to their own merit for the applauses which they obtained from their own times, and for the eulogiums which encouraged them, than to the conformity of their doctrines, to those which began to be accredited. They said plainly and unreservedly what everybody thought. Each, recognising himself in them, admired himself in his interpreter. Men must begin to doubt, before one can have much success in shaking their belief, and certainly before one can gain celebrity by attempting it. This explains why it is impossible at some epochs to disseminate doubt, and equally impossible, at others, to establish conviction. This is not accidental. It is not by mere caprice, that people are devout or irreligious. When the religious form is in harmony with the religious sentiment, and with the faculties of the mind, doubt is impossible; when that harmony no longer exists, belief is equally impossible. A believing epoch marks institutions which respond to the wants of the soul, and of the understanding ; an unbelieving epoch marks a growth, an advance, which has left those institutions behind,- à search after new institutions, which will answer to the new wants that have been developed, and with which the faculties of the human mind may unite, and gather strength to take another step onward in its endless career of perfectibility.
From Benjamin Constant's theory, slightly and imperfectly as we have now presented even its most prominent traits, we may derive much to soften our indignation at the past, and to inspire us with hope for the future. All the great institutions of former times have been good in their day, and in their places, and have had missions essential to the progress of humanity to accomplish. The Catholic institution, Catholicism, which still excites the wrath and indignation of many a religionist, as well as of many an unbeliever, was a noble institution in its time.
in its time. It was a mighty advance upon the paganism which preceded it.
It was suited to the wants of the age in which it flourished, and we are indebted to it for the very light which has enabled us to discover its defects. Its vices, and they
need not be disguised, – appertain to the fact, that it has lingered beyond its hour. It has now, and long has had,
, only a factitious existence. Its work was long since done, its purpose accomplished, and it now only occupies the space, that should be filled with another institution, - one which will combine all our discoveries and improvements, and be in harmony with the present state of mental and moral progress.
Protestantism cannot be said to supply the place of Catholicism. Protestantism is not a religion, is not a religious institution, contains in itself no germ of organization. Its purpose was negative, one of destruction. It was born in the conflict raised up by the progress
of mind against Catholicism, which had become superannuated. Its mission was legitimate, was necessary, was inevitable ; but may we not ask, if it be not accomplished ? Catholicism is destroyed, or at least, is ready to disappear entirely, as soon as a new principle of social and religious organization, capable of engaging all minds and hearts in its service, shall present itself. And this new principle will present itself. Men will not always live in a religious anarchy. The confusion of the transition-state in which we now are, must end, and a new religious form be disclosed, which all will love and obey.
But we need not go out of Christianity to find this new principle. Christianity contains the germs of many new principles, which wait only the proper hour to develope themselves. We have, as yet, seen but little of Christianity, suspected but little of what it is, and what it contains. Christianity is unalterable, eternal, indestructible as to its foundation, but it is exceedingly flexible, as to its forms. In one stage of spiritual improvement, it unites enthusiastically with Catholicism, and, in another, it upites no less enthusiastically with Protestantism, and urges it on in its career of destruction. A great excellence of Christianity, and one of the most striking proofs of its divine origin, is the fact, that it is wedded to no form, but can unite with all forms, and exist in all stages of civilization. Indeed, in the last analysis, it is little else than the religious sentiment