« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
or, at least, that if there be, it cannot be brought within the scope of human knowledge; that physical experiment is the sole test of scientific truth, and that, consequently, any proposition not capable of submitting itself to that test, thereby forfeits any claim to the attention, not to say the adherence, of the human mind; that there is, in the domain of matter, such a "reign of law," that God Himself cannot interfere in its working, and in the domain of morals such a “law of evolution,” that the human will counts for nothing in the production of history; that, consequently, miracles are myths, the sediment, as it were, of unscientific ages past, and that responsibility is a bugbear, which, having served its purpose with the intellectual children of a pre-scientific period, may now be relegated to the domain of exploded superstitions, and be substituted by the infallible dogma, that even if a man does wrong, he is only fulfilling a certain law that works in spite of him to the progress of the species. But in the enumeration of these so-called principles of “modern thought,” we are compelled to pause for the present. The number of them, and the extent of ground they cover, and their unbounded impudence, and their arrogant intolerance so grow upon our imagination, that we feel it best to commence our attack at once, lest, appalled by these “shadows of the night,” we might be tempted to give up as hopeless a contest that seems to have so many issues and so many fields of combat.
We have said, first, that we find the origin of this “modern thought" in Protestantism as a system.
The intellectual basis of Protestantism is the denial of authority—external to the inquirer-to decide in matters of religion. Now “religion,” as generally understood, includes two branches—first, things to be believed, or dogma ; second, things to be done, or morality ; in other words, in order to have a religion at all, it is necessary to have some authority proposing dogma, and some standard determining morality. From the very nature of the case this authority should be infallible—this standard absolutely unerring in its accuracy. We say " from the very nature of the case,” for, if anything is certain, it is that God could not have contradictory wishes in these matters; that, consequently, He must have wished one thing, or set of dogmas, to be believed, and not another-one thing, or set of precepts, to be obeyed, and not another; and that if, besides being infinitely wise, He was also infinitely just and powerful, He would have appointed for the beings from whom He exacted faith and morality, a means of attaining to both with infallible certainty. Now, by whatever system interpreted, the only logical claim Christianity has ever made upon the world is the claim to be, in some way or other, an infallible teacher of faith and morals. In any system of Christianity there must needs be some infallible authority in these matters. According to the Catholic system, that authority is an always living authority, speaking through the infallible magisterium of the Church ; and it is a strong indirect proof of the logical cogency of the Catholic system, that from the moment any man, or any society, removed that key-stone of infallible living authority, Christianity, in the hands of that man or that society, became no longer a sacred temple or a secure habitation, but a ruin leading daily more and more to disintegration and decay.
This Catholic system, as a matter of fact, was, antecedent to the so-called “Reformation,"co-extensive with Christianity itself. Not only was there 'no true logically coherent Christianity outside that system—that much is always true—but there was nothing that claimed even the name of Christianity. Such being the case, what did this “Reformation” at first do? It did not deny the necessity of dogma or morality, nor did it even deny the necessity of an authority (practically) infallible ; but it changed the seat of that authority. It wrestled the dead letter of Scripture from the hand of its only lawful guardian, the Church ; and it left to “private judgment,” exercising its ingenuity on the text, to propose to itself dogma, and to the "individual conscience," either in its natural state, or, at best, illuminated by the ignes fatui of "private judgment,” to make its own morality. And Protestantism, in its first founders, having done so much, sought to stop there. It would fain retain Christianity after having removed its foundation. It had created and let loose upon the world the “Frankenstein" of "private judgment," and sought to satiate its appetite by the sacrifice of some, not all, of the dogmas of the Christian religion. But the endeavour was futile. The human mind, even starting from a profoundly false principle, is too naturally logical not to push that principle to its remotest conclusions. Supply the human mind with premises, and sooner or later it will put the syllogism into form. Accordingly, the argument formed itself gradually into this—“If there be such a thing as dogma at all it must be true, and we must have certainty that it is true; but, if 'private judgment be the measure of dogma, it is abundantly evident that either there is no true dogma, or, at any rate, none capable of proof; therefore there is not any dogma cognizable by the human intellect.” This conclusion took time to formulate itself, but it is tolerably well formulized in Protestant societies at present. Of course there is another alternative possible in the above
conclusion. It may be, after all, that "private judgment” is not the proper measure of dogmatic truth. But“ private judgment" was too great a bribe to the “natural man” that he should question his right to receive it; and so blind has Protestantism been to this alternative of the conclusion, that we venture to say that there is no human right, at the present moment, which one could with less impunity call into question in Protestant societies than the imaginary right of every man to think as he likes in matters of religion.
And what of the parallel branch of morality? Well, the human mind, reasoning logically, inevitably reasons in precisely the same way about morality that it reasons about dogma, and would enforce its conclusion with a rod of iron upon civil society were it not that, for a time, the policeman is an inevitable condition of the social problem-only for a time--for when faith shall have utterly died out of any society, and morality lost its sanction, revolution will be prompt to claim its logical right to take the place of the dethroned authorities that in times past presided over the consolidation of Christian society. Here, then, we have “modern thought” in its very essence. A man has a right to think as he likes in matters of dogma, and this right he may at once proceed to exercise, because its tendency to dissolve civil society, however inevitable, is more or less remote. Again, a man has a right to do as he likes, but with the full exercise of this right the policeman for the present unwarrantably interferes.
The necessity, however, of authority in human affairs, intellectual and other, is so obvious a condition of progress that when we find it called into question in matters of religion, we begin at once to suspect that, in the first instance, at any rate, this claim for what is in reality intellectual licence, was only an after-thought to excuse or palliate moral licentiousness. Any student of history can tell how the facts of the history of the Reformation bear out such suspicions.
Authority is so necessary to the progress of the human mind in any direction, that it cannot be dispensed with even in the pursuit of those branches of physical knowledge to which their professors, with an arrogance quite their own, restrict the title of "scientific" investigation. In every department of knowledge, human as well as divine, there must be teachers before there can be learners; and the learners must proceed on the practical maxim-“cuique sua arte credendum," that is, they must accept, provisionaily at least, the authority of the teacher as a guarantee of the truth of certain statements which their condition as beginners renders it impossible to verify for themselves. Hence let us freely admit that scientific statements made by scientific men, so that both the statements and the men be really scientific-are eminently worthy of credencebut, it has become more than ever necessary to distinguish between the statements of scientific men on the proper subject matter of their science, and the arbitrary assumptions and crude theories by which they make unwarrantable incursions into other sciences in which, from the necessities of the case, they are themselves mere beginners-more in need of teaching than competent to teach. Let us give a scientific illustration of what we have been saying. If a chemist, in pursuit of chemistry, arrives at some conclusion which at first sight appears to him to contradict some conclusion proclaimed by the science of physiology-should he at once take for granted, and proclaim that physiology teaches an error ? Should he not, rather in common justice, make himself acquainted with the science of physiology, and with the demonstration which that science professes to give of the proposition in dispute ? As a matter of fact, men of science are too shrewd to proceed in any other way. It is only in one matter that their native sagacity seems to desert them. It is only when it occurs to them that some of their scientific conclusions, or theories formed of these conclusions by copious use of gratuitous assumption, contradict some truth of revealed religion-it is only then that they hasten to give the lie to revelation without ever troubling themselves to ascertain what the Church has to say in favour of her authoritative assertion of revealed truth.
If it were, instead of being the merest assumption, an ascertained matter of simple fact--that there is no such thing as “the supernatural”—that man is merely a higher development of monkey, or the slowly evolved product of some original “protoplasm" which came no one knows whence, but which, once having come, developed itself by laws so necessary that not even its creator-if, indeed, it had a creator at all-can interfere with their operation--that it is one of these necessary laws that man so evolved should in his turn evolve some “baseless fabric of a vision," and give it the name of “the supernatural"—if all this, and much more of the same character, were a proved matter of fact, then indeed might men of science, confronted with such a race and such a state of things, have some warrant for the contemptuous attitude they assume towards the millions who believe that the supernatural is not a dream, but the highest and sublimest of all realities. But for this—they come too late. The supernatural has preceded them in the world's history by six thousand years. It is not unreasonable to suppose that it will outlive them in the minds of men by as many more, if the world itself shall last so long. But for this attitude of men of science towards supernatural truth, we can find, not indeed a justification, for there is none, but at least some explanation and excuse in the Protestant system, which is the basis of “modern thought." The truth is, there is always a danger in a Protestant society, especially when it is approaching its ultimate development into pure naturalism; there is always a danger, indeed almost a certainty, that men of great intellectual power will begin their intellectual life with a strong bias against revealed religion-a bias which nothing but a special interposition of Divine grace is able to counteract. A young man of ability begins to find his mind awakening to the problems which the mere fact of living in the world must necessarily accumulate around an intelligent being—and amongst these, as a matter of fact, those problems which are called "religious" assume a paramount importance. He turns to the solution which the religious society in which it was his lot to be born professes to offer. Now, if that society be Protestant, he perceives at once, and all the more clearly in proportion to the acuteness of his intellect, that any solution that, in its ultimate analysis and last resort, rests upon a “private judgment” which he bitterly feels to be fallible, and which, even if he did not feel it, would prove itself fallible by the contradictions in which it resulted, must fail to be satisfactory to a logical inquirer after religious truth. He begins, then, very naturally, to be sceptical about everything that transcends the sphere of purely natural knowledge. Looking abroad upon a society in which the disintegrating influences of such a system have been at work in every field of thought, he is met with a vast chaos of uncertain utterances and conflicting opinions about the very things which the instinct of his soul proclaimed to be of primary importance; and it need surprise no one if he throw himself into physical science as believing it to be the only one capable of satisfying the restless craving of his intellectual nature. Accordingly he begins his intellectual career with the assumption, tacit or expressed, that there is nothing capable of being really known unless it can be submitted to the test of sensible experiment. He is compelled, to be sure, as an indispensable condition of any intellectual effort, to recognise and respect the laws of his own thought-he abstracts and generalizes, proceeds by induction and deduction—and hence his complete theory issues in this that human reason proceeding upon the evidence supplied by tangible experiment, is the ultimate tribunal of appeal on every possible question. He feels, indeed, that men have, by almost universal consent, raised issues which human reason has no data to pronounce upon with any certainty, but he calmly