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ARTICLE III.-DENOMINATIONAL COLLEGES.
Fourteenth Annual Report of the Society for Promoting
Collegiate and Theological Education at the West. Address on the Mutual Coöperation of Different Denomina
tions, in the support of Christian Colleges.
We owe our readers an apology for the phrase which we have placed at the head of this Article. We confess it is not exactly classical. The word “denominational” is of recent American origin; and we remember the time when the combination of this word with Colleges would have seemed harsh, if not quite unintelligible. But changes in ideas and institutions compel changes in words; and Americans are not necessarily to be charged with relapsing into barbarism, if they do make changes in the English language, corresponding to the novel ideas and social combinations, which have originated on this side of the Atlantic.
Diversity of religious denomination has increased so rapidly within the last quarter of a century, and has become so important an element in American society, that there is an imperative necessity of an adjective expressive of it. The word “sectarian " might be supposed to meet this want; but it always implies more or less of censure, and for that reason men are not fond of applying it to themselves and their party. They are apt to flatter themselves that though much attached to the religious denomination to which they belong, they are still not sectarians. They feel, therefore, the need of a word which will describe zeal for a denomination, as they like to call it, without any implication of a narrow and sectarian spirit. For this purpose, evidently, the word “denominational” was coined, and has obtained currency; and we shall profit nothing by protesting against its use, for it meets a widely felt want.
The phrase, “Denominational Colleges,” is also the product of comparatively recent changes in the minds of the American people. It is within the memory of men yet not far from the meridian of life, that the thought had scarcely been entertained by any mind that a College should be in any sense the representative of a sect, or that such Colleges as Princeton, and Columbia, and Yale, were not suitable for the education of any American youth, whatever might be the religious views of his parents.
But it is supposed the world is growing wiser. Many now regard it as an established law of society, that no College can flourish unless its very life is intertwined with that of some religious denomination; and that conversely no denomination, or, as persons entertaining such views, would generally prefer to say, no church, can be expected to prosper without a system of Colleges forming a part of its organic life.
The process by which these ideas have taken possession of the popular mind is quite marvelous. They are not the result of any new light which has been thrown upon the subject by discussion, or by discovery, or by the experience of educators. They are the direct products of that multiplication of sects, and that vast increase of the sectarian spirit which have 80 strangely characterized the last half century of our history. Men full of zeal for their religious denomination, and ambitious of its aggrandizement, have discovered that Colleges are instruments of power, and have therefore eagerly seized upon them, and sought to wield them with as much efficiency as possible, for denominational purposes. “ Furor arma ministrat."
It seems to us, therefore, quite time to pause in our career, and inquire whither all this is tending. What is to be the result of an order of things which is new, we say, not within the memory of our fathers, but of ourselves; which has been inaugurated with the rashness and hot haste of sectarian zeal, rather than with the considerateness and sober reflection which the magnitude of the interests involved clearly calls for; and which is already, with an arrogance not very pardonable, representing itself as the normal condition of society, and not unlikely to spurn any questionings of ours as radical and revolutionary.
Such an inquiry into the tendency of Denominational Colleges we purpose now to institute. We have referred, at the head of this Article, to two very unpretending pamphlets. But unpretending as they are, they afford a proper text for introducing this subject to our readers. In the year 1844, the “Society for Promoting Collegiate and Theological Education at the West," was organized for the purpose of rendering needed aid to infant Seminaries of learning in the West, till provisions could be made for their permanent endowment. Its resources have been chiefly derived from collections in Congregational and New School Presbyterian Churches in the New England and Middle States. Its principles are wholly unsectarian and coöperative. But within these last few years it has experienced constantly increasing difficulties in the performance of its noble work, from this new and growing rage for Denominational Colleges. In the Fourteenth Annual Report of the Society, and the accompanying Address, drawn up by a Committee, of which, that veteran in the cause of coöperative benevolence, Absalom Peters, D. D., was the Chairman, the prominent points of the subject are presented with clearness and force. Whoever will read these documents will find the question argued from a practical rather than a theoretical stand-point, and by minds that have seen and felt the magnitude of the obstacles which this zeal for Denominational Colleges throws in the way of large-hearted Christian men, who are endeavoring to lay the foundations of liberal learning along our Western frontier.
There are three forms under which the denominational element in Colleges is sometimes exhibited, to each of which we must give some attention, in order to present the subject fairly to our readers. That form which would always be preferred, were the denominational spirit free to obey its own impulses, is to subject the Colleges to the control of the organic system of the denomination itself, to the General Association, the Synod, the Convention, or the Presbytery. As there are many among us, at the present time, who cannot
be made to feel that their churches are not living in criminal disobedience to the Saviour's command, "Go teach all nations,” however earnestly the individual members of the same are engaged in the missionary work both at home and in foreign parts, unless the missionaries sent out, and the funds contributed, are under the direct control of the ecclesiastical machinery of their own denomination ; so there are many who cannot believe that they bave any provision for the liberal education of their sons, unless their Colleges are a part of their ecclesiastical system, controlled by their Presbytery, their Synod, or their Convention. They can feel safe in sending their sons to such Colleges. But if they must send them to Institutions not thus controlled, they are apprehensive that some unfair advantage will be taken of them, to turn them away from the faith of their fathers. Hence their zeal for Denominational Colleges. This is certainly a novel order of things, and we believe it will be transient; but thousands are rushing into it with just as much confidence as they would do if it had the sanction of centuries of experience.
It is perhaps not easy to say which are the most unfit to exercise control over our higher seminaries of learning, our political or our ecclesiastical bodies; though we should be willing to grant the bad preëminence, in this particular, to the former. And yet the unfitness of both is largely due to the same causes. They are alike bodies constituted for other ends than the management of literary institutions; and those primary ends for which they exist will always be paramount in their proceedings, and reduce all other interests which they may attempt to embrace and take care of, to a subordinate position. If Colleges are controlled by political bodies, they will be rendered subservient to the views and interests of whatever political faction may happen to be in the ascendency. In that case, the hope of their being conducted with a sober, steady, and enlightened regard to the interests of liberal learning, is wild and chimerical. The man who indulges such an expectation has surely not read human nature successfully. He has need to be reminded that the stream cannot rise higher than the fountain. He who thinks that Yale College could .
have been raised to her present position of world-wide usefulness and renown, under the control of the political bodies of the State of Connecticut, must surely have studied Politics or Colleges, or both, to very little purpose.
And the very same objection holds good against subjecting Colleges to the control of bodies constituted for ecclesiastical purposes. There is the same natural tendency of ecclesiastical
. bodies to make the interests of their denomination paramount, in all matters to which they apply themselves, as in political bodies to make the interests of party paramount.
And if the management of Colleges is committed to them, it may be expected that the interests, real or supposed, of a religious denomination, will be made to override the interests of learning. Our inference in this case is quite as obvious and quite as inevitable as in the case of political bodies; and we know but one way in which it is possible to break its force. It may perhaps be denied that any real or supposed interests of a religious sect having a College under its control, can come in competition with the ends for which such a seminary of learning ought to be conducted. Such a denial would rather indicate an amiable good natured confidence in our fellow men, than a knowledge of the actual state of things amid which we live.
An important chair of instruction, for example, is to be filled. Is it then entirely certain, is it even probable, that the interests of sect, or what is much more accordant with the reality of things, sectarian passions, and an enlightened regard to the interests of learning will point towards the same candidate for the place? Is there no reason to fear that a regard for denominational interests will lead to the appointment of an inferior man, who is right denominationally, in preference to a superior man who cannot be exactly squared to that rule ? Is it so perfectly easy to fill a vacant Presidency, in any one of our Western Colleges, with a man fully adequate to such a station, that we can afford to insist that the candidate shall be of some certain, precise shade of opinion in respect to Presbyterian or Congregational notions of the Church? Or can it be quite consistent with the best interests of learning, to insist