The Warfare of Science With Theology
From The Divine Oracles To The Higher Criticism
by Andrew Dickson White
- Character of the great sacred books of the world
- General laws governing the development and influence of sacred literature.–The law of its origin
- Legends concerning the Septuagint
- The law of wills and causes
- The law of inerrancy
- Hostility to the revision of King James’s translation of the Bible
- The law of unity
- Working of these laws seen in the great rabbinical schools
- The law of allegorical interpretation
- Philo Judaeus
- Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria
- Occult significance of numbers
- Hilary of Poitiers and Jerome
- Gregory the Great
- Vain attempts to check the flood of allegorical interpretations
- Methods of modern criticism for the first time employed by Lorenzo Valla
- Influence of the Reformation on the belief in the infallibility of the sacred books.–Luther and Melanchthon
- Development of scholasticism in the Reformed Church
- Catholic belief in the inspiration of the Vulgate
- Opposition in Russia to the revision of the Slavonic Scriptures
- Sir Isaac Newton as a commentator
- Scriptural interpretation at the beginning of the eighteenth century
- Theological beliefs regarding the Pentateuch
- The book of Genesis
- Doubt thrown on the sacred theory by Aben Ezra
- By Carlstadt and Maes
- Influence of the discovery that the Isidorian Decretals were forgeries
- That the writings ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite were serious
- Hobbes and La Peyrere
- Progress of biblical criticism in France.–Richard Simon
- Bishop Lowth
- Eichhorn’s application of the “higher criticism” to biblical research
- Alexander Geddes
- Opposition to the higher criticism in Germany
- Vatke and Reuss
- Progress of the higher criticism in Germany and Holland
- Opposition to it in England
- At the University of Oxford
- Niebuhr and Arnold
- Thirlwall and Grote
- The publication of Essays and Reviews, and the storm raised by book
- Colenso’s work on the Pentateuch
- The persecution of him
- Bishop Wilberforce’s part in it
- Dean Stanley’s
- Bishop Thirlwall’s
- Results of Colenso’s work
- Sanday’s Bampton Lectures
- Keble College and Lux Mundi
- Progress of biblical criticism among the dissenters
- In France.–Renan
- In the Roman Catholic Church
- The encyclical letter of Pope Leo XIII
- In America.–Theodore Parker
- Apparent strength of the old theory of inspiration
- Real strength of the new movement
- Confirmation of the conclusions of the higher criticism by
- Assyriology and Egyptology
- Light thrown upon Hebrew religion by the translation of the sacred books of the East
- The influence of Persian thought.–The work of the Rev. Dr. Mills
- The influence of Indian thought.–Light thrown by the study of
- Brahmanism and Buddhism
- The work of Fathers Huc and Gabet
- Discovery that Buddha himself had been canonized as a Christian saint
- Similarity between the ideas and legends of Buddhism and those of Christianity
- The application of the higher criticism to the New Testament
- The English “Revised Version” of Studies on the formation of the canon of Scripture
- Recognition of the laws governing its development
- Change in the spirit of the controversy over the higher criticism
- Development of a scientific atmosphere during the last three centuries
- Action of modern science in reconstruction of religious truth
- Change wrought by it in the conception of a sacred literature
- Of the Divine Power.–Of man.—Of the world at large
- Of our Bible
THE great sacred books of the world are the most precious of human possessions. They embody the deepest searchings into the most vital problems of humanity in all its stages: the naive guesses of the world’s childhood, the opening conceptions of its youth, the more fully rounded beliefs of its maturity.
These books, no matter how unhistorical in parts and at times, are profoundly true. They mirror the evolution of man’s loftiest aspirations, hopes, loves, consolations, and enthusiasms; his hates and fears; his views of his origin and destiny; his theories of his rights and duties; and these not merely in their lights but in their shadows. Therefore it is that they contain the germs of truths most necessary in the evolution of humanity, and give to these germs the environment and sustenance which best insure their growth and strength.
With wide differences in origin and character, this sacred literature has been developed and has exercised its influence in obedience to certain general laws. First of these in time, if not in importance, is that which governs its origin: in all civilizations we find that the Divine Spirit working in the mind of man shapes his sacred books first of all out of the chaos of myth and legend; and of these books, when life is thus breathed into them, the fittest survive.
So broad and dense is this atmosphere of myth and legend enveloping them that it lingers about them after they have been brought forth full-orbed; and, sometimes, from it are even produced secondary mythical and legendary concretions–satellites about these greater orbs of early thought. Of these secondary growths one may be mentioned as showing how rich in myth-making material was the atmosphere which enveloped our own earlier sacred literature.
In the third century before Christ there began to be elaborated among the Jewish scholars of Alexandria, then the great centre of human thought, a Greek translation of the main books constituting the Old Testament. Nothing could be more natural at that place and time than such a translation; yet the growth of explanatory myth and legend around it was none the less luxuriant. There was indeed a twofold growth. Among the Jews favourable to the new version a legend rose which justified it. This legend in its first stage was to the effect that the Ptolemy then on the Egyptian throne had, at the request of his chief librarian, sent to Jerusalem for translators; that the Jewish high priest Eleazar had sent to the king a most precious copy of the Scriptures from the temple at Jerusalem, and six most venerable, devout, and learned scholars from each of the twelve tribes of Israel; that the number of translators thus corresponded with the mysterious seventy-two appellations of God; and that the combined efforts of these seventy-two men produced a marvellously perfect translation.
But in that atmosphere of myth and marvel the legend continued to grow, and soon we have it blooming forth yet more gorgeously in the statement that King Ptolemy ordered each of the seventy-two to make by himself a full translation of the entire Old Testament, and shut up each translator in a separate cell on the island of Pharos, secluding him there until the work was done; that the work of each was completed in exactly seventy-two days; and that when, at the end of the seventy-two days, the seventy-two translations were compared, each was found exactly like all the others. This showed clearly Jehovah’s _approval_.
But out of all this myth and legend there was also evolved an account of a very different sort. The Jews who remained faithful to the traditions of their race regarded this Greek version as a profanation, and therefore there grew up the legend that on the completion of the work there was darkness over the whole earth during three days. This showed clearly Jehovah’s _disapproval_.
These well-known legends, which arose within what–as compared with any previous time–was an exceedingly enlightened period, and which were steadfastly believed by a vast multitude of Jews and Christians for ages, are but single examples among scores which show how inevitably such traditions regarding sacred books are developed in the earlier stages of civilization, when men explain everything by miracle and nothing by law.]
As the second of these laws governing the evolution of sacred literature may be mentioned that which we have constantly seen so effective in the growth of theological ideas–that to which Comte gave the name of the _Law of Wills and Causes_. Obedient to this, man attributes to the Supreme Being a physical, intellectual, and moral structure like his own; hence it is that the votary of each of the great world religions ascribes to its sacred books what he considers absolute perfection: he imagines them to be what he himself would give the world, were he himself infinitely good, wise, and powerful.
A very simple analogy might indeed show him that even a literature emanating from an all-wise, beneficent, and powerful author might not seem perfect when judged by a human standard; for he has only to look about him in the world to find that the work which he attributes to an all-wise, all-beneficent, and all-powerful Creator is by no means free from evil and wrong.
But this analogy long escapes him, and the exponent of each great religion proves to his own satisfaction, and to the edification of his fellows, that their own sacred literature is absolutely accurate in statement, infinitely profound in meaning, and miraculously perfect in form. From these premises also he arrives at the conclusion that his own sacred literature is unique; that no other sacred book can have emanated from a divine source; and that all others claiming to be sacred are impostures.
Still another law governing the evolution of sacred literature in every great world religion is, that when the books which compose it are once selected and grouped they come to be regarded as a final creation from which nothing can be taken away, and of which even error in form, if sanctioned by tradition, may not be changed.
The working of this law has recently been seen on a large scale.
A few years since, a body of chosen scholars, universally acknowledged to be the most fit for the work, undertook, at the call of English-speaking Christendom, to revise the authorized English version of the Bible.
Beautiful as was that old version, there was abundant reason for a revision. The progress of biblical scholarship had revealed multitudes of imperfections and not a few gross errors in the work of the early translators, and these, if uncorrected, were sure to bring the sacred volume into discredit.
Nothing could be more reverent than the spirit of the revisers, and the nineteenth century has known few historical events of more significant and touching beauty than the participation in the holy communion by all these scholars–prelates, presbyters, ministers, and laymen of churches most widely differing in belief and observance–kneeling side by side at the little altar in Westminster Abbey.
Nor could any work have been more conservative and cautious than theirs; as far as possible they preserved the old matter and form with scrupulous care.
Yet their work was no sooner done than it was bitterly attacked and widely condemned; to this day it is largely regarded with dislike. In Great Britain, in America, in Australia, the old version, with its glaring misconceptions, mistranslations, and interpolations, is still read in preference to the new; the great body of English-speaking Christians clearly preferring the accustomed form of words given by the seventeenth-century translators, rather than a nearer approach to the exact teaching of the Holy Ghost.
Still another law is, that when once a group of sacred books has been evolved–even though the group really be a great library of most dissimilar works, ranging in matter from the hundredth Psalm to the Song of Songs, and in manner from the sublimity of Isaiah to the offhand story-telling of Jonah–all come to be thought one inseparable mass of interpenetrating parts; every statement in each fitting exactly and miraculously into each statement in every other; and each and every one, and all together, literally true to fact, and at the same time full of hidden meanings.
The working of these and other laws governing the evolution of sacred literature is very clearly seen in the great rabbinical schools which flourished at Jerusalem, Tiberias, and elsewhere, after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, and especially as we approach the time of Christ. These schools developed a subtlety in the study of the Old Testament which seems almost preternatural. The resultant system was mainly a jugglery with words, phrases, and numbers, which finally became a “sacred science,” with various recognised departments, in which interpretation was carried on sometimes by attaching a numerical value to letters; sometimes by interchange of letters from differently arranged alphabets; sometimes by the making of new texts out of the initial letters of the old; and with ever-increasing subtlety.
Such efforts as these culminated fitly in the rabbinical declaration that each passage in the law has seventy distinct meanings, and that God himself gives three hours every day to their study.
After this the Jewish world was prepared for anything, and it does not surprise us to find such discoveries in the domain of ethical culture as the doctrine that, for inflicting the forty stripes save one upon those who broke the law, the lash should be braided of ox-hide and ass-hide; and, as warrant for this construction of the lash, the text, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know”; and, as the logic connecting text and lash, the statement that Jehovah evidently intended to command that “the men who know not shall be beaten by those animals whose knowledge shames them.”
By such methods also were revealed such historical treasures as that Og, King of Bashan, escaped the deluge by wading after Noah’s ark.
There were, indeed, noble exceptions to this kind of teaching. It can not be forgotten that Rabbi Hillel formulated the golden rule, which had before him been given to the extreme Orient by Confucius, and which afterward received a yet more beautiful and positive emphasis from Jesus of Nazareth; but the seven rules of interpretation laid down by Hillel were multiplied and refined by men like Rabbi Ismael and Rabbi Eleazar until they justified every absurd subtlety.
An eminent scholar has said that while the letter of Scripture became ossified in Palestine, it became volatilized at Alexandria; and the truth of this remark was proved by the Alexandrian Jewish theologians just before the beginning of our era.
This, too, was in obedience to a law of development, which is, that when literal interpretation clashes with increasing knowledge or with progress in moral feeling, theologians take refuge in mystic meanings–a law which we see working in all great religions, from the Brahmans finding hidden senses in the Vedas, to Plato and the Stoics finding them in the Greek myths; and from the Sofi reading new meanings into the Koran, to eminent Christian divines of the nineteenth century giving a non-natural sense to some of the plainest statements in the Bible.
Nothing is more natural than all this. When naive statements of sacred writers, in accord with the ethics of early ages, make Brahma perform atrocities which would disgrace a pirate; and Jupiter take part in adventures worthy of Don Juan; and Jahveh practise trickery, cruelty, and high-handed injustice which would bring any civilized mortal into the criminal courts, the invention of allegory is the one means of saving the divine authority as soon as men reach higher planes of civilization.
The great early master in this evolution of allegory, for the satisfaction of Jews and Christians, was Philo: by him its use came in as never before. The four streams of the garden of Eden thus become the four virtues; Abraham’s country and kindred, from which he was commanded to depart, the human body and its members; the five cities of Sodom, the five senses; the Euphrates, correction of manners. By Philo and his compeers even the most insignificant words and phrases, and those especially, were held to conceal the most precious meanings.
A perfectly natural and logical result of this view was reached when Philo, saturated as he was with Greek culture and nourished on pious traditions of the utterances at Delphi and Dodona, spoke reverently of the Jewish Scriptures as “_oracles_”. Oracles they became: as oracles they appeared in the early history of the Christian Church; and oracles they remained for centuries: eternal life or death, infinite happiness or agony, as well as ordinary justice in this world, being made to depend on shifting interpretations of a long series of dark and doubtful utterances–interpretations frequently given by men who might have been prophets and apostles, but who had become simply oracle-mongers.
Pressing these oracles into the service of science, Philo became the forerunner of that long series of theologians who, from Augustine and Cosmas to Mr. Gladstone, have attempted to extract from scriptural myth and legend profound contributions to natural science. Thus he taught that the golden candlesticks in the tabernacle symbolized the planets, the high priest’s robe the universe, and the bells upon it the harmony of earth and water–whatever that may mean. So Cosmas taught, a thousand years later, that the table of shewbread in the tabernacle showed forth the form and construction of the world; and Mr. Gladstone hinted, more than a thousand years later still, that Neptune’s trident had a mysterious connection with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
These methods, as applied to the Old Testament, had appeared at times in the New; in spite of the resistance of Tertullian and Irenaeus, they were transmitted to the Church; and in the works of the early fathers they bloomed forth luxuriantly.
Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria vigorously extended them. Typical of Justin’s method is his finding, in a very simple reference by Isaiah to Damascus, Samaria, and Assyria, a clear prophecy of the three wise men of the East who brought gifts to the infant Saviour; and in the bells on the priest’s robe a prefiguration of the twelve apostles. Any difficulty arising from the fact that the number of bells is not specified in Scripture, Justin overcame by insisting that David referred to this prefiguration in the nineteenth Psalm: “Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”
Working in this vein, Clement of Alexandria found in the form, dimensions, and colour of the Jewish tabernacle a whole wealth of interpretation–the altar of incense representing the earth placed at the centre of the universe; the high priest’s robe the visible world; the jewels on the priest’s robe the zodiac; and Abraham’s three days’ journey to Mount Moriah the three stages of the soul in its progress toward the knowledge of God. Interpreting the New Testament, he lessened any difficulties involved in the miracle of the barley loaves and fishes by suggesting that what it really means is that Jesus gave mankind a preparatory training for the gospel by means of the law and philosophy; because, as he says, barley, like the law, ripens sooner than wheat, which represents the gospel; and because, just as fishes grow in the waves of the ocean, so philosophy grew in the waves of the Gentile world.
Out of reasonings like these, those who followed, especially Cosmas, developed, as we have seen, a complete theological science of geography and astronomy.
But the instrument in exegesis which was used with most cogent force was the occult significance of certain numbers. The Chaldean and Egyptian researches of our own time have revealed the main source of this line of thought; the speculations of Plato upon it are well known; but among the Jews and in the early Church it grew into something far beyond the wildest imaginings of the priests of Memphis and Babylon.
Philo had found for the elucidation of Scripture especially deep meanings in the numbers four, six, and seven; but other interpreters soon surpassed him. At the very outset this occult power was used in ascertaining the canonical books of Scripture. Josephus argued that, since there were twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, there must be twenty-two sacred books in the Old Testament; other Jewish authorities thought that there should be twenty-four books, on account of the twenty-four watches in the temple. St. Jerome wavered between the argument based upon the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet and that suggested by the twenty-four elders in the Apocalypse. Hilary of Poitiers argued that there must be twenty-four books, on account of the twenty-four letters in the Greek alphabet. Origen found an argument for the existence of exactly four gospels in the existence of just four elements. Irenaeus insisted that there could be neither more nor fewer than four gospels, since the earth has four quarters, the air four winds, and the cherubim four faces; and he denounced those who declined to accept this reasoning as “vain, ignorant, and audacious.”
But during the first half of the third century came one who exercised a still stronger influence in this direction–a great man who, while rendering precious services, did more than any other to fasten upon the Church a system which has been one of its heaviest burdens for more than sixteen hundred years: this was Origen. Yet his purpose was noble and his work based on profound thought. He had to meet the leading philosophers of the pagan world, to reply to their arguments against the Old Testament, and especially to break the force of their taunts against its imputation of human form, limitations, passions, weaknesses, and even immoralities to the Almighty.
Starting with a mistaken translation of a verse in the book of Proverbs, Origen presented as a basis for his main structure the idea of a threefold sense of Scripture: the literal, the moral, and the mystic–corresponding to the Platonic conception of the threefold nature of man. As results of this we have such masterpieces as his proof, from the fifth verse of chapter xxv of Job, that the stars are living beings, and from the well-known passage in the nineteenth chapter of St. Matthew his warrant for self-mutilation. But his great triumphs were in the allegorical method. By its use the Bible was speedily made an oracle indeed, or, rather, a book of riddles. A list of kings in the Old Testament thus becomes an enumeration of sins; the waterpots of stone, “containing two or three firkins apiece,” at the marriage of Cana, signify the literal, moral, and spiritual sense of Scripture; the ass upon which the Saviour rode on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem becomes the Old Testament, the foal the New Testament, and the two apostles who went to loose them the moral and mystical senses; blind Bartimeus throwing off his coat while hastening to Jesus, opens a whole treasury of oracular meanings.
The genius and power of Origen made a great impression on the strong thinkers who followed him. St. Jerome called him “the greatest master in the Church since the apostles,” and Athanasius was hardly less emphatic.
The structure thus begun was continued by leading theologians during the centuries following: St. Hilary of Poitiers–“the Athanasius of Gaul”–produced some wonderful results of this method; but St. Jerome, inspired by the example of the man whom he so greatly admnired, went beyond him. A triumph of his exegesis is seen in his statement that the Shunamite damsel who was selected to cherish David in his old age signified heavenly wisdom.
The great mind of St. Augustine was drawn largely into this kind of creation, and nothing marks more clearly the vast change which had come over the world than the fact that this greatest of the early Christian thinkers turned from the broader paths opened by Plato and Aristotle into that opened by Clement of Alexandria. In the mystic power of numbers to reveal the sense of Scripture Augustine found especial delight. He tells us that there is deep meaning in sundry scriptural uses of the number forty, and especially as the number of days required for fasting. Forty, he reminds us, is four times ten. Now, four, he says, is the number especially representing time, the day and the year being each divided into four parts; while ten, being made up of three and seven, represents knowledge of the Creator and creature, three referring to the three persons in the triune Creator, and seven referring to the three elements, heart, soul, and mind, taken in connection with the four elements, fire, air, earth, and water, which go to make up the creature. Therefore this number ten, representing knowledge, being multiplied by four, representing time, admonishes us to live during time according to knowledge–that is, to fast for forty days.
Referring to such misty methods as these, which lead the reader to ask himself whether he is sleeping or waking, St. Augustine remarks that “ignorance of numbers prevents us from understanding such things in Scripture.” But perhaps the most amazing example is to be seen in his notes on the hundred and fifty and three fishes which, according to St. John’s Gospel, were caught by St. Peter and the other apostles. Some points in his long development of this subject may be selected to show what the older theological method could be made to do for a great mind. He tells us that the hundred and fifty and three fishes embody a mystery; that the number ten, evidently as the number of the commandments, indicates the law; but, as the law without the spirit only kills, we must add the seven gifts of the spirit, and we thus have the number seventeen, which signifies the old and new dispensations; then, if we add together every several number which seventeen contains from one to seventeen inclusive, the result is a hundred and fifty and three–the number of the fishes.
With this sort of reasoning he finds profound meanings in the number of furlongs mentioned in the sixth chapter of St. John. Referring to the fact that the disciples had rowed about “twenty-five or thirty furlongs,” he declares that “twenty-five typifies the law, because it is five times five, but the law was imperfect before the gospel came; now perfection is comprised in six, since God in six days perfected the world, hence five is multiplied by six that the law may be perfected by the gospel, and six times five is thirty.”
But Augustine’s exploits in exegesis were not all based on numerals; he is sometimes equally profound in other modes. Thus he tells us that the condemnation of the serpent to eat dust typifies the sin of curiosity, since in eating dust he “penetrates the obscure and shadowy”; and that Noah’s ark was “pitched within and without with pitch” to show the safety of the Church from the leaking in of heresy.
Still another exploit–one at which the Church might well have stood aghast–was his statement that the drunkenness of Noah prefigured the suffering and death of Christ. It is but just to say that he was not the original author of this interpretation: it had been presented long before by St. Cyprian. But this was far from Augustine’s worst. Perhaps no interpretation of Scripture has ever led to more cruel and persistent oppression, torture, and bloodshed than his reading into one of the most beautiful parables of Jesus of Nazareth–into the words “Compel them to come in”–a warrant for religious persecution: of all unintended blasphemies since the world began, possibly the most appalling.
Another strong man follows to fasten these methods on the Church: St. Gregory the Great. In his renowned work on the book of Job, the _Magna Moralia_, given to the world at the end of the sixth century, he lays great stress on the deep mystical meanings of the statement that Job had seven sons. He thinks the seven sons typify the twelve apostles, for “the apostles were selected through the sevenfold grace of the Spirit; moreover, twelve is produced from seven–that is, the two parts of seven, four and three, when multiplied together give twelve.” He also finds deep significance in the number of the apostles; this number being evidently determined by a multiplication of the number of persons in the Trinity by the number of quarters of the globe. Still, to do him justice, it must be said that in some parts of his exegesis the strong sense which was one of his most striking characteristics crops out in a way very refreshing. Thus, referring to a passage in the first chapter of Job, regarding the oxen which were ploughing and the asses which were feeding beside them, he tells us pithily that these typify two classes of Christians: the oxen, the energetic Christians who do the work of the Church; the asses, the lazy Christians who merely feed.
Thus began the vast theological structure of oracular interpretation applied to the Bible. As we have seen, the men who prepared the ground for it were the rabbis of Palestine and the Hellenized Jews of Alexandria; and the four great men who laid its foundation courses were Origen, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Gregory.
During the ten centuries following the last of these men this structure continued to rise steadily above the plain meanings of Scripture. The Christian world rejoiced in it, and the few great thinkers who dared bring the truth to bear upon it were rejected. It did indeed seem at one period in the early Church that a better system might be developed. The School of Antioch, especially as represented by Chrysostom, appeared likely to lead in this better way, but the dominant forces were too strong; the passion for myth and marvel prevailed over the love of real knowledge, and the reasonings of Chrysostom and his compeers were neglected.
In the ninth century came another effort to present the claims of right reason. The first man prominent in this was St. Agobard, Bishop of Lyons, whom an eminent historian has well called the clearest head of his time. With the same insight which penetrated the fallacies and follies of image worship, belief in witchcraft persecution, the ordeal, and the judicial duel, he saw the futility of this vast fabric of interpretation, protested against the idea that the Divine Spirit extended its inspiration to the mere words of Scripture, and asked a question which has resounded through every generation since: “If you once begin such a system, who can measure the absurdity which will follow?”
During the same century another opponent of this dominant system appeared: John Scotus Erigena. He contended that “reason and authority come alike from the one source of Divine Wisdom”; that the fathers, great as their authority is, often contradict each other; and that, in last resort, reason must be called in to decide between them.
But the evolution of unreason continued: Agobard was unheeded, and Erigena placed under the ban by two councils–his work being condemned by a synod as a “_Commentum Diaboli_.” Four centuries later Honorius III ordered it to be burned, as “teeming with the venom of hereditary depravity”; and finally, after eight centuries, Pope Gregory XIII placed it on the Index, where, with so many other works which have done good service to humanity, it remains to this day. Nor did Abelard, who, three centuries after Agobard and Erigena, made an attempt in some respects like theirs, have any better success: his fate at the hands of St. Bernard and the Council of Sens the world knows by heart. Far more consonant with the spirit of the universal Church was the teaching in the twelfth century of the great Hugo of St. Victor, conveyed in these ominous words, “Learn first what is to be believed” (_Disce primo quod credendum est_), meaning thereby that one should first accept doctrines, and then find texts to confirm them.
These principles being dominant, the accretions to the enormous fabric of interpretation went steadily on. Typical is the fact that the Venerable Bede contributed to it the doctrine that, in the text mentioning Elkanah and his two wives, Elkanah means Christ and the two wives the Synagogue and the Church. Even such men as Alfred the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas were added to the forces at work in building above the sacred books this prodigious structure of sophistry.
Perhaps nothing shows more clearly the tenacity of the old system of interpretation than the sermons of Savonarola. During the last decade of the fifteenth century, just at the close of the medieval period, he was engaged in a life-and-death struggle at Florence. No man ever preached more powerfully the gospel of righteousness; none ever laid more stress on conduct; even Luther was not more zealous for reform or more careless of tradition; and yet we find the great Florentine apostle and martyr absolutely tied fast to the old system of allegorical interpretation. The autograph notes of his sermons, still preserved in his cell at San Marco, show this abundantly. Thus we find him attaching to the creation of grasses and plants on the third day an allegorical connection with the “multitude of the elect” and with the “sound doctrines of the Church,” and to the creation of land animals on the sixth day a similar relation to “the Jewish people” and to “Christians given up to things earthly.”
The revival of learning in the fifteenth century seemed likely to undermine this older structure.
Then it was that Lorenzo Valla brought to bear on biblical research, for the first time, the spirit of modern criticism. By truly scientific methods he proved the famous “Letter of Christ to Abgarus” a forgery; the “Donation of Constantine,” one of the great foundations of the ecclesiastical power in temporal things, a fraud; and the “Apostles’ Creed” a creation which post-dated the apostles by several centuries. Of even more permanent influence was his work upon the New Testament, in which he initiated the modern method of comparing manuscripts to find what the sacred text really is. At an earlier or later period he would doubtless have paid for his temerity with his life; fortunately, just at that time the ruling pontiff and his Contemporaries cared much for literature and little for orthodoxy, and from their palaces he could bid defiance to the Inquisition.
While Valla thus initiated biblical criticism south of the Alps, a much greater man began a more fruitful work in northern Europe. Erasmus, with his edition of the New Testament, stands at the source of that great stream of modern research and thought which is doing so much to undermine and dissolve away the vast fabric of patristic and scholastic interpretation.
Yet his efforts to purify the scriptural text seemed at first to encounter insurmountable difficulties, and one of these may stimulate reflection. He had found, what some others had found before him, that the famous verse in the fifth chapter of the First Epistle General of St. John, regarding the “three witnesses,” was an interpolation. Careful research through all the really important early manuscripts showed that it appeared in none of them. Even after the Bible had been corrected, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, by Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, and by Nicholas, cardinal and librarian of the Roman Church, “in accordance with the orthodox faith,” the passage was still wanting in the more authoritative Latin manuscripts. There was not the slightest tenable ground for believing in the authenticity of the text; on the contrary, it has been demonstrated that, after a universal silence of the orthodox fathers of the Church, of the ancient versions of the Scriptures, and of all really important manuscripts, the verse first appeared in a Confession of Faith drawn up by an obscure zealot toward the end of the fifth century. In a very mild exercise, then, of critical judgment, Erasmus omitted this text from the first two editions of his Greek Testament as evidently spurious. A storm arose at once. In England, Lee, afterward Archbishop of York; in Spain, Stunica, one of the editors of the Complutensian Polyglot; and in France, Bude, Syndic of the Sorbonne, together with a vast army of monks in England and on the Continent, attacked him ferociously. He was condemned by the University of Paris, and various propositions of his were declared to be heretical and impious. Fortunately, the worst persecutors could not reach him; otherwise they might have treated him as they treated his disciple, Berquin, whom in 1529 they burned at Paris.
The fate of this spurious text throws light into the workings of human nature in its relations to sacred literature. Although Luther omitted it from his translation of the New Testament, and kept it out of every copy published during his lifetime, and although at a later period the most eminent Christian scholars showed that it had no right to a place in the Bible, it was, after Luther’s death, replaced in the German translation, and has been incorporated into all important editions of it, save one, since the beginning of the seventeenth century. So essential was it found in maintaining the dominant theology that, despite the fact that Sir Isaac Newton, Richard Porson, the nineteenth-century revisers, and all other eminent authorities have rejected it, the Anglican Church still retains it in its Lectionary, and the Scotch Church continues to use it in the Westminster Catechism, as a main support of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Nor were other new truths presented by Erasmus better received. His statement that “some of the epistles ascribed to St. Paul are certainly not his,” which is to-day universally acknowledged as a truism, also aroused a storm. For generations, then, his work seemed vain.
On the coming in of the Reformation the great structure of belief in the literal and historical correctness of every statement in the Scriptures, in the profound allegorical meanings of the simplest texts, and even in the divine origin of the vowel punctuation, towered more loftily and grew more rapidly than ever before. The Reformers, having cast off the authority of the Pope and of the universal Church, fell back all the more upon the infallibility of the sacred books. The attitude of Luther toward this great subject was characteristic. As a rule, he adhered tenaciously to the literal interpretation of the Scriptures; his argument against Copernicus is a fair example of his reasoning in this respect; but, with the strong good sense which characterized him, he from time to time broke away from the received belief. Thus, he took the liberty of understanding certain passages in the Old Testament in a different sense from that given them by the New Testament, and declared St. Paul’s allegorical use of the story of Sarah and Hagar “too unsound to stand the test.” He also emphatically denied that the Epistle to the Hebrews was written by St. Paul, and he did this in the exercise of a critical judgment upon internal evidence. His utterance as to the Epistle of St. James became famous. He announced to the Church: “I do not esteem this an apostolic, epistle; I will not have it in my Bible among the canonical books,” and he summed up his opinion in his well-known allusion to it as “an epistle of straw.”
Emboldened by him, the gentle spirit of Melanchthon, while usually taking the Bible very literally, at times revolted; but this was not due to any want of loyalty to the old method of interpretation: whenever the wildest and most absurd system of exegesis seemed necessary to support any part of the reformed doctrine, Luther and Melanchthon unflinchingly developed it. Both of them held firmly to the old dictum of Hugo of St. Victor, which, as we have seen, was virtually that one must first accept the doctrine, and then find scriptural warrant for it. Very striking examples of this were afforded in the interpretation by Luther and Melanchthon of certain alleged marvels of their time, and one out of several of these may be taken as typical of their methods.
In 1523 Luther and Melanchthon jointly published a work under the title _Der Papstesel_–interpreting the significance of a strange, ass-like monster which, according to a popular story, had been found floating in the Tiber some time before. This book was illustrated by startling pictures, and both text and pictures were devoted to proving that this monster was “a sign from God,” indicating the doom of the papacy. This treatise by the two great founders of German Protestantism pointed out that the ass’s head signified the Pope himself; “for,” said they, “as well as an ass’s head is suited to a human body, so well is the Pope suited to be head over the Church.” This argument was clinched by a reference to Exodus. The right hand of the monster, said to be like an elephant’s foot, they made to signify the spiritual rule of the Pope, since “with it he tramples upon all the weak”: this they proved from the book of Daniel and the Second Epistle to Timothy. The monster’s left hand, which was like the hand of a man, they declared to mean the Pope’s secular rule, and they found passages to support this view in Daniel and St. Luke. The right foot, which was like the foot of an ox, they declared to typify the servants of the spiritual power; and proved this by a citation from St. Matthew. The left foot, like a griffin’s claw, they made to typify the servants of the temporal power of the Pope, and the highly developed breasts and various other members, cardinals, bishops, priests, and monks, “whose life is eating, drinking, and unchastity”: to prove this they cited passages from Second Timothy and Philippians. The alleged fish-scales on the arms, legs, and neck of the monster they made to typify secular princes and lords; “since,” as they said, “in St. Matthew and Job the sea typifies the world, and fishes men.” The old man’s head at the base of the monster’s spine they interpreted to mean “the abolition and end of the papacy,” and proved this from Hebrews and Daniel. The dragon which opens his mouth in the rear and vomits fire, “refers to the terrible, virulent bulls and books which the Pope and his minions are now vomiting forth into the world.” The two great Reformers then went on to insist that, since this monster was found at Rome, it could refer to no person but the Pope; “for,” they said, “God always sends his signs in the places where their meaning applies.” Finally, they assured the world that the monster in general clearly signified that the papacy was then near its end. To this development of interpretation Luther and Melanchthon especially devoted themselves; the latter by revising this exposition of the prodigy, and the former by making additions to a new edition.
Such was the success of this kind of interpretation that Luther, hearing that a monstrous calf had been found at Freiburg, published a treatise upon it–showing, by citations from the books of Exodus, Kings, the Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, and the Gospel of St. John, that this new monster was the especial work of the devil, but full of meaning in regard to the questions at issue between the Reformers and the older Church.
The other main branch of the Reformed Church appeared for a time to establish a better system. Calvin’s strong logic seemed at one period likely to tear his adherents away from the older method; but the evolution of scholasticism continued, and the influence of the German reformers prevailed. At every theological centre came an amazing development of interpretation. Eminent Lutheran divines in the seventeenth century, like Gerhard, Calovius, Coccerus, and multitudes of others, wrote scores of quartos to further this system, and the other branch of the Protestant Church emulated their example. The pregnant dictum of St. Augustine–“Greater is the authority of Scripture than all human capacity”–was steadily insisted upon, and, toward the close of the seventeenth century, Voetius, the renowned professor at Utrecht, declared, “Not a word is contained in the Holy Scriptures which is not in the strictest sense inspired, the very punctuation not excepted”; and this declaration was echoed back from multitudes of pulpits, theological chairs, synods, and councils. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to find what the “authority of Scripture” really was. To the greater number of Protestant ecclesiastics it meant the authority of any meaning in the text which they had the wit to invent and the power to enforce.
To increase this vast confusion, came, in the older branch of the Church, the idea of the divine inspiration of the Latin translation of the Bible ascribed to St. Jerome–the Vulgate. It was insisted by leading Catholic authorities that this was as completely a product of divine inspiration as was the Hebrew original. Strong men arose to insist even that, where the Hebrew and the Latin differed, the Hebrew should be altered to fit Jerome’s mistranslation, as the latter, having been made under the new dispensation, must be better than that made under the old. Even so great a man as Cardinal Bellarmine exerted himself in vain against this new tide of unreason.
Nor was a fanatical adhesion to the mere letter of the sacred text confined to western Europe. About the middle of the seventeenth century, in the reign of Alexis, father of Peter the Great, Nikon, Patriarch of the Russian Greek Church, attempted to correct the Slavonic Scriptures and service-books. They were full of interpolations due to ignorance, carelessness, or zeal, and in order to remedy this state of the texts Nikon procured a number of the best Greek and Slavonic manuscripts, set the leading and most devout scholars he could find at work upon them, and caused Russian Church councils in 1655 and 1666 to promulgate the books thus corrected.
But the same feelings which have wrought so strongly against our nineteenth-century revision of the Bible acted even more forcibly against that revision in the seventeenth century. Straightway great masses of the people, led by monks and parish priests, rose in revolt. The fact that the revisers had written in the New Testament the name of Jesus correctly, instead of following the old wrong orthography, aroused the wildest fanaticism. The monks of the great convent of Solovetsk, when the new books were sent them, cried in terror: “Woe, woe! what have you done with the Son of God?” They then shut their gates, defying patriarch, council, and Czar, until, after a struggle lasting seven years, their monastery was besieged and taken by an imperial army. Hence arose the great sect of the “Old Believers,” lasting to this day, and fanatically devoted to the corrupt readings of the old text.
Strange to say, on the development of Scripture interpretation, largely in accordance with the old methods, wrought, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, Sir Isaac Newton.
It is hard to believe that from the mind which produced the _Principia_, and which broke through the many time-honoured beliefs regarding the dates and formation of scriptural books, could have come his discussions regarding the prophecies; still, at various points even in this work, his power appears. From internal evidence he not only discarded the text of the Three Witnesses, but he decided that the Pentateuch must have been made up from several books; that Genesis was not written until the reign of Saul; that the books of Kings and Chronicles were probably collected by Ezra; and, in a curious anticipation of modern criticism, that the book of Psalms and the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel were each written by various authors at various dates. But the old belief in prophecy as prediction was too strong for him, and we find him applying his great powers to the relation of the details given by the prophets and in the Apocalypse to the history of mankind since unrolled, and tracing from every statement in prophetic literature its exact fulfilment even in the most minute particulars.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century the structure of scriptural interpretation had become enormous. It seemed destined to hide forever the real character of our sacred literature and to obscure the great light which Christianity had brought into the world. The Church, Eastern and Western, Catholic and Protestant, was content to sit in its shadow, and the great divines of all branches of the Church reared every sort of fantastic buttress to strengthen or adorn it. It seemed to be founded for eternity; and yet, at this very time when it appeared the strongest, a current of thought was rapidly dissolving away its foundations, and preparing that wreck and ruin of the whole fabric which is now, at the close of the nineteenth century, going on so rapidly.
The account of the movement thus begun is next to be given.
At the base of the vast structure of the older scriptural interpretation were certain ideas regarding the first five books of the Old Testament. It was taken for granted that they had been dictated by the Almighty to Moses about fifteen hundred years before our era; that some parts of them, indeed, had been written by the corporeal finger of Jehovah, and that all parts gave not merely his thoughts but his exact phraseology. It was also held, virtually by the universal Church, that while every narrative or statement in these books is a precise statement of historical or scientific fact, yet that the entire text contains vast hidden meanings. Such was the rule: the exceptions made by a few interpreters here and there only confirmed it. Even the indifference of St. Jerome to the doctrine of Mosaic authorship did not prevent its ripening into a dogma.
The book of Genesis was universally held to be an account, not only divinely comprehensive but miraculously exact, of the creation and of the beginnings of life on the earth; an account to which all discoveries in every branch of science must, under pains and penalties, be made to conform. In English-speaking lands this has lasted until our own time: the most eminent of recent English biologists has told us how in every path of natural science he has, at some stage in his career, come across a barrier labelled “No thoroughfare Moses.”
A favourite subject of theological eloquence was the perfection of the Pentateuch, and especially of Genesis, not only as a record of the past, but as a revelation of the future.
The culmination of this view in the Protestant Church was the _Pansophia Mosaica of Pfeiffer_, a Lutheran general superintendent, or bishop, in northern Germany, near the beginning of the seventeenth century. He declared that the text of Genesis “must be received strictly”; that “it contains all knowledge, human and divine”; that “twenty-eight articles of the Augsburg Confession are to be found in it”; that “it is an arsenal of arguments against all sects and sorts of atheists, pagans, Jews, Turks, Tartars, papists, Calvinists, Socinians, and Baptists”; “the source of all sciences and arts, including law, medicine, philosophy, and rhetoric”; “the source and essence of all histories and of all professions, trades, and works”; “an exhibition of all virtues and vices”; “the origin of all consolation.”
This utterance resounded through Germany from pulpit to pulpit, growing in strength and volume, until a century later it was echoed back by Huet, the eminent bishop and commentator of France. He cited a hundred authors, sacred and profane, to prove that Moses wrote the Pentateuch; and not only this, but that from the Jewish lawgiver came the heathen theology–that Moses was, in fact, nearly the whole pagan pantheon rolled into one, and really the being worshipped under such names as Bacchus, Adonis, and Apollo.
About the middle of the twelfth century came, so far as the world now knows, the first gainsayer of this general theory. Then it was that Aben Ezra, the greatest biblical scholar of the Middle Ages, ventured very discreetly to call attention to certain points in the Pentateuch incompatible with the belief that the whole of it had been written by Moses and handed down in its original form. His opinion was based upon the well-known texts which have turned all really eminent biblical scholars in the nineteenth century from the old view by showing the Mosaic authorship of the five books in their present form to be clearly disproved by the books themselves; and, among these texts, accounts of Moses’ own death and burial, as well as statements based on names, events, and conditions which only came into being ages after the time of Moses.
But Aben Ezra had evidently no aspirations for martyrdom; he fathered the idea upon a rabbi of a previous generation, and, having veiled his statement in an enigma, added the caution, “Let him who understands hold his tongue.”
For about four centuries the learned world followed the prudent rabbi’s advice, and then two noted scholars, one of them a Protestant, the other a Catholic, revived his idea. The first of these, Carlstadt, insisted that the authorship of the Pentateuch was unknown and unknowable; the other, Andreas Maes, expressed his opinion in terms which would not now offend the most orthodox, that the Pentateuch had been edited by Ezra, and had received in the process sundry divinely inspired words and phrases to clear the meaning. Both these innovators were dealt with promptly: Carlstadt was, for this and other troublesome ideas, suppressed with the applause of the Protestant Church; and the book of Maes was placed by the older Church on the _Index_.
But as we now look back over the Revival of Learning, the Age of Discovery, and the Reformation, we can see clearly that powerful as the older Church then was, and powerful as the Reformed Church was to be, there was at work something far more mighty than either or than both; and this was a great law of nature–the law of evolution through differentiation. Obedient to this law there now began to arise, both within the Church and without it, a new body of scholars–not so much theologians as searchers for truth by scientific methods. Some, like Cusa, were ecclesiastics; some, like Valla, Erasmus, and the Scaligers, were not such in any real sense; but whether in holy orders, really, nominally, or not at all, they were, first of all, literary and scientific investigators.
During the sixteenth century a strong impulse was given to more thorough research by several very remarkable triumphs of the critical method as developed by this new class of men, and two of these ought here to receive attention on account of their influence upon the whole after course of human thought.
For many centuries the Decretals bearing the great name of Isidore had been cherished as among the most valued muniments of the Church. They contained what claimed to be a mass of canons, letters of popes, decrees of councils, and the like, from the days of the apostles down to the eighth century–all supporting at important points the doctrine, the discipline, the ceremonial, and various high claims of the Church and its hierarchy.
But in the fifteenth century that sturdy German thinker, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, insisted on examining these documents and on applying to them the same thorough research and patient thought which led him, even before Copernicus, to detect the error of the Ptolemaic astronomy.
As a result, he avowed his scepticism regarding this pious literature; other close thinkers followed him in investigating it, and it was soon found a tissue of absurd anachronisms, with endless clashing and confusion of events and persons.
For a time heroic attempts were made by Church authorities to cover up these facts. Scholars revealing them were frowned upon, even persecuted, and their works placed upon the _Index_; scholars explaining them away–the “apologists” or “reconcilers” of that day–were rewarded with Church preferment, one of them securing for a very feeble treatise a cardinal’s hat. But all in vain; these writings were at length acknowledged by all scholars of note, Catholic and Protestant, to be mainly a mass of devoutly cunning forgeries.
While the eyes of scholars were thus opened as never before to the skill of early Church zealots in forging documents useful to ecclesiasticism, another discovery revealed their equal skill in forging documents useful to theology.
For more than a thousand years great stress had been laid by theologians upon the writings ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, the Athenian convert of St. Paul. Claiming to come from one so near the great apostle, they were prized as a most precious supplement to Holy Writ. A belief was developed that when St. Paul had returned to earth, after having been “caught up to the third heaven,” he had revealed to Dionysius the things he had seen. Hence it was that the varied pictures given in these writings of the heavenly hierarchy and the angelic ministers of the Almighty took strong hold upon the imagination of the universal Church: their theological statements sank deeply into the hearts and minds of the Mystics of the twelfth century and the Platonists of the fifteenth; and the ten epistles they contained, addressed to St. John, to Titus, to Polycarp, and others of the earliest period, were considered treasures of sacred history. An Emperor of the East had sent these writings to an Emperor of the West as the most precious of imperial gifts. Scotus Erigena had translated them; St. Thomas Aquinas had expounded them; Dante had glorified them; Albert the Great had claimed that they were virtually given by St. Paul and inspired by the Holy Ghost. Their authenticity was taken for granted by fathers, doctors, popes, councils, and the universal Church.
But now, in the glow of the Renascence, all this treasure was found to be but dross. Investigators in the old Church and in the new joined in proving that the great mass of it was spurious. To say nothing of other evidences, it failed to stand the simplest of all tests, for these writings constantly presupposed institutions and referred to events of much later date than the time of Dionysius; they were at length acknowledged by all authorities worthy of the name, Catholic as well as Protestant, to be simply–like the Isidorian Decretals–pious frauds.
Thus arose an atmosphere of criticism very different from the atmosphere of literary docility and acquiescence of the “Ages of Faith”; thus it came that great scholars in all parts of Europe began to realize, as never before, the part which theological skill and ecclesiastical zeal had taken in the development of spurious sacred literature; thus was stimulated a new energy in research into all ancient documents, no matter what their claims. To strengthen this feeling and to intensify the stimulating qualities of this new atmosphere came, as we have seen, the researches and revelations of Valla regarding the forged _Letter of Christ to Abgarus_, the fraudulent _Donation of Constantine_, and the late date of the Apostles’ Creed; and, to give this feeling direction toward the Hebrew and Christian sacred books, came the example of Erasmus.
Naturally, then, in this new atmosphere the bolder scholars of Europe soon began to push mnore vigorously the researches begun centuries before by Aben Ezra, and the next efforts of these men were seen about the middle of the seventeenth century, when Hobbes, in his _Leviathan_, and La Pevrere, in his _Preadamites_, took them up and developed them still further. The result came speedily. Hobbes, for this and other sins, was put under the ban, even by the political party which sorely needed him, and was regarded generally as an outcast; while La Peyrere, for this and other heresies, was thrown into prison by the Grand Vicar of Mechlin, and kept there until he fullv retracted: his book was refuted by seven theologians within a year after its appearance, and within a generation thirty-six elaborate answers to it had appeared: the Parliament of Paris ordered it to be burned by the hangman.
In 1670 came an utterance vastly more important, by a man far greater than any of these–the _Tractatus Thrologico-Politicus_ of Spinoza. Reverently but firmly he went much more deeply into the subject. Suggesting new arguments and recasting the old, he summed up all with judicial fairness, and showed that Moses could not have been the author of the Pentateuch in the form then existing; that there had been glosses and revisions; that the biblical books had grown up as a literature; that, though great truths are to be found in them, and they are to be regarded as a divine revelation, the old claims of inerrancy for them can not be maintained; that in studying them men had been misled by mistaking human conceptions for divine meanings; that, while prophets have been inspired, the prophetic faculty has not been the dowry of the Jewish people alone; that to look for exact knowledge of natural and spiritual phenomena in the sacred books is an utter mistake; and that the narratives of the Old and New Testaments, while they surpass those of profane history, differ among themselves not only in literary merit, but in the value of the doctrines they inculcate. As to the authorship of the Pentateuch, he arrived at the conclusion that it was written long after Moses, but that Moses may have written some books from which it was compiled–as, for example, those which are mentioned in the Scriptures, the _Book of the Wars of God_, the _Book of the Covenant_, and the like–and that the many repetitions and contradictions in the various books show a lack of careful editing as well as a variety of original sources. Spinoza then went on to throw light into some other books of the Old and New Testaments, and added two general statements which have proved exceedingly serviceable, for they contain the germs of all modern broad churchmanship; and the first of them gave the formula which was destined in our own time to save to the Anglican Church a large number of her noblest sons: this was, that “sacred Scripture _contains_ the Word of God, and in so far as it contains it is incorruptible”; the second was, that “error in speculative doctrine is not impious.”
Though published in various editions, the book seemed to produce little effect upon the world at that time; but its result to Spinoza himself was none the less serious. Though so deeply religious that Novalis spoke of him as “a God-intoxicated man,” and Schleiermacher called him a “saint,” he had been, for the earlier expression of some of the opinions it contained, abhorred as a heretic both by Jews and Christians: from the synagogue he was cut off by a public curse, and by the Church he was now regarded as in some sort a forerunner of Antichrist. For all this, he showed no resentment, but devoted himself quietly to his studies, and to the simple manual labour by which he supported himself; declined all proffered honours, among them a professorship at Heidelberg; found pleasure only in the society of a few friends as gentle and affectionate as himself; and died contentedly, without seeing any widespread effect of his doctrine other than the prevailing abhorrence of himself.
Perhaps in all the seventeenth century there was no man whom Jesus of Nazareth would have more deeply loved, and no life which he would have more warmly approved; yet down to a very recent period this hatred for Spinoza has continued. When, about 188o, it was proposed to erect a monument to him at Amsterdam, discourses were given in churches and synagogues prophesying the wrath of Heaven upon the city for such a profanation; and when the monument was finished, the police were obliged to exert themselves to prevent injury to the statue and to the eminent scholars who unveiled it.
But the ideas of Spinoza at last secured recognition. They had sunk deeply into the hearts and minds of various leaders of thought, and, most important of all, into the heart and mind of Lessing; he brought them to bear in his treatise on the _Education of the World_, as well as in his drama, _Nathan the Wise_, and both these works have spoken with power to every generation since.
In France, also, came the same healthful evolution of thought. For generations scholars had known that multitudes of errors had crept into the sacred text. Robert Stephens had found over two thousand variations in the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament, and in 1633 Jean Morin, a priest of the Oratory, pointed out clearly many of the most glaring of these. Seventeen years later, in spite of the most earnest Protestant efforts to suppress his work, Cappellus gave forth his _Critica Sacra_, demonstrating not only that the vowel pointing of Scripture was not divinely inspired, but that the Hebrew text itself, from which the modern translations were made, is full of errors due to the carelessness, ignorance, and doctrinal zeal of early scribes, and that there had clearly been no miraculous preservation of the “original autographs” of the sacred books.
While orthodox France was under the uneasiness and alarm thus caused, appeared a _Critical History of the Old Testament_ by Richard Simon, a priest of the Oratory. He was a thoroughly religious man and an acute scholar, whose whole purpose was to develop truths which he believed healthful to the Church and to mankind. But he denied that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, and exhibited the internal evidence, now so well known, that the books were composed much later by various persons, and edited later still. He also showed that other parts of the Old Testament had been compiled from older sources, and attacked the time-honoured theory that Hebrew was the primitive language of mankind. The whole character of his book was such that in these days it would pass, on the whole, as conservative and orthodox; it had been approved by the censor in 1678, and printed, when the table of contents and a page of the preface were shown to Bossuet. The great bishop and theologian was instantly aroused; he pronounced the work “a mass of impieties and a bulwark of irreligion”; his biographer tells us that, although it was Holy Thursday, the bishop, in spite of the solemnity of the day, hastened at once to the Chancellor Le Tellier, and secured an order to stop the publication of the book and to burn the whole edition of it. Fortunately, a few copies were rescued, and a few years later the work found a new publisher in Holland; yet not until there had been attached to it, evidently by some Protestant divine of authority, an essay warning the reader against its dangerous doctrines. Two years later a translation was published in England.
This first work of Simon was followed by others, in which he sought, in the interest of scriptural truth, to throw a new and purer light upon our sacred literature; but Bossuet proved implacable. Although unable to suppress all of Simon’s works, he was able to drive him from the Oratory, and to bring him into disrepute among the very men who ought to have been proud of him as Frenchmen and thankful to him as Christians.
But other scholars of eminence were now working in this field, and chief among them Le Clerc. Virtually driven out of Geneva, he took refuge at Amsterdam, and there published a series of works upon the Hebrew language, the interpretation of Scripture, and the like. In these he combated the prevalent idea that Hebrew was the primitive tongue, expressed the opinion that in the plural form of the word used in Genesis for God, “Elohim,” there is a trace of Chaldean polytheism, and, in his discussion on the serpent who tempted Eve, curiously anticipated modern geological and zoological ideas by quietly confessing his inability to see how depriving the serpent of feet and compelling him to go on his belly could be punishment–since all this was natural to the animal. He also ventured quasi-scientific explanations of the confusion of tongues at Babel, the destruction of Sodom, the conversion of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, and the dividing of the Red Sea. As to the Pentateuch in general, he completely rejected the idea that it was written by Moses. But his most permanent gift to the thinking world was his answer to those who insisted upon the reference by Christ and his apostles to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. The answer became a formula which has proved effective from his day to ours: “Our Lord and his apostles did not come into this world to teach criticism to the Jews, and hence spoke according to the common opinion.”
Against all these scholars came a theological storm, but it raged most pitilessly against Le Clerc. Such renowned theologians as Carpzov in Germany, Witsius in Holland, and Huet in France berated him unmercifully and overwhelmed him with assertions which still fill us with wonder. That of Huet, attributing the origin of pagan as well as Christian theology to Moses, we have already seen; but Carpzov showed that Protestantism could not be outdone by Catholicism when he declared, in the face of all modern knowledge, that not only the matter but the exact form and words of the Bible had been divinely transmitted to the modern world free from all error.
At this Le Clerc stood aghast, and finally stammered out a sort of half recantation.
During the eighteenth century constant additions were made to the enormous structure of orthodox scriptural interpretation, some of them gaining the applause of the Christian world then, though nearly all are utterly discredited now. But in 1753 appeared two contributions of permanent influence, though differing vastly in value. In the comparative estimate of these two works the world has seen a remarkable reversal of public opinion.
The first of these was Bishop Lowth’s _Prelections upon the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews_. In this was well brought out that characteristic of Hebrew poetry to which it owes so much of its peculiar charm–its parallelism.
The second of these books was Astruc’s _Conjectures on the Original Memoirs which Moses used in composing the Book of Genesis_. In this was for the first time clearly revealed the fact that, amid various fragments of old writings, at least two main narratives enter into the composition of Genesis; that in the first of these is generally used as an appellation of the Almighty the word “Elohim,” and in the second the word “Yahveh” (Jehovah); that each narrative has characteristics of its own, in thought and expression, which distinguish it from the other; that, by separating these, two clear and distinct narratives may be obtained, each consistent with itself, and that thus, and thus alone, can be explained the repetitions, discrepancies, and contradictions in Genesis which so long baffled the ingenuity of commentators, especially the two accounts of the creation, so utterly inconsistent with each other.
Interesting as was Lowth’s book, this work by Astruc was, as the thinking world now acknowledges, infinitely more important; it was, indeed, the most valuable single contribution ever made to biblical study. But such was not the judgment of the world _then_. While Lowth’s book was covered with honour and its author promoted from the bishopric of St. David’s to that of London, and even offered the primacy, Astruc and his book were covered with reproach. Though, as an orthodox Catholic, he had mainly desired to reassert the authorship of Moses against the argument of Spinoza, he received no thanks on that account. Theologians of all creeds sneered at him as a doctor of medicine who had blundered beyond his province; his fellow-Catholics in France bitterly denounced him as a heretic; and in Germany the great Protestant theologian, Michaelis, who had edited and exalted Lowth’s work, poured contempt over Astruc as an ignoramus.
The case of Astruc is one of the many which show the wonderful power of the older theological reasoning to close the strongest minds against the clearest truths. The fact which he discovered is now as definitely established as any in the whole range of literature or science. It has become as clear as the day, and yet for two thousand years the minds of professional theologians, Jewish and Christian, were unable to detect it. Not until this eminent physician applied to the subject a mind trained in making scientific distinctions was it given to the world. It was, of course, not possible even for so eminent a scholar as Michaelis to pooh-pooh down a discovery so pregnant; and, curiously enough, it was one of Michaelis’s own scholars, Eichhorn, who did the main work in bringing the new truth to bear upon the world. He, with others, developed out of it the theory that Genesis, and indeed the Pentateuch, is made up entirely of fragments of old writings, mainly disjointed. But they did far more than this: they impressed upon the thinking part of Christendom the fact that the Bible is not a _book_, but a _literature_; that the style is not supernatural and unique, but simply the Oriental style of the lands and times in which its various parts were written; and that these must be studied in the light of the modes of thought and statement and the literary habits generally of Oriental peoples. From Eichhorn’s time the process which, by historical, philological, and textual research, brings out the truth regarding this literature has been known as “the higher criticism.”
He was a deeply religious man, and the mainspring of his efforts was the desire to bring back to the Church the educated classes, who had been repelled by the stiff Lutheran orthodoxy; but this only increased hostility to him. Opposition met him in Germany at every turn; and in England, Lloyd, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, who sought patronage for a translation of Eichhorn’s work, was met generally with contempt and frequently with insult.
Throughout Catholic Germany it was even worse. In 1774 Isenbiehl, a priest at Mayence who had distinguished himself as a Greek and Hebrew scholar, happened to question the usual interpretation of the passage in Isaiah which refers to the virgin-born Immanuel, and showed then–what every competent critic knows now–that it had reference to events looked for in older Jewish history. The censorship and faculty of theology attacked him at once and brought him before the elector. Luckily, this potentate was one of the old easy-going prince-bishops, and contented himself with telling the priest that, though his contention was perhaps true, he “must remain in the old paths, and avoid everything likely to make trouble.”
But at the elector’s death, soon afterward, the theologians renewed the attack, threw Isenbiehl out of his professorship and degraded him. One insult deserves mention for its ingenuity. It was declared that he–the successful and brilliant professor–showed by the obnoxious interpretation that he had not yet rightly learned the Scriptures; he was therefore sent back to the benches of the theological school, and made to take his seat among the ingenuous youth who were conning the rudiments of theology.
At this he made a new statement, so carefully guarded that it disarmed many of his enemies, and his high scholarship soon won for him a new professorship of Greek–the condition being that he should cease writing upon Scripture. But a crafty bookseller having republished his former book, and having protected himself by keeping the place and date of publication secret, a new storm fell upon the author; he was again removed from his professorship and thrown into prison; his book was forbidden, and all copies of it in that part of Germany were confiscated.
In 1778, having escaped from prison, he sought refuge with another of the minor rulers who in blissful unconsciousness were doing their worst while awaiting the French Revolution, but was at once delivered up to the Mayence authorities and again thrown into prison.
The Pope, Pius VI, now intervened with a brief on Isenbiehl’s book, declaring it “horrible, false, perverse, destructive, tainted with heresy,” and excommunicating all who should read it. At this, Isenbiehl, declaring that he had written it in the hope of doing a service to the Church, recanted, and vegetated in obscurity until his death in 1818.
But, despite theological faculties, prince-bishops, and even popes, the new current of thought increased in strength and volume, and into it at the end of the eighteenth century came important contributions from two sources widely separated and most dissimilar.
The first of these, which gave a stimulus not yet exhausted, was the work of Herder. By a remarkable intuition he had anticipated some of those ideas of an evolutionary process in nature and in literature which first gained full recognition nearly three quarters of a century after him; but his greatest service in the field of biblical study was his work, at once profound and brilliant, _The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry_. In this field he eclipsed Bishop Lowth. Among other things of importance, he showed that the Psalms were by different authors and of different periods–the bloom of a great poetic literature. Until his time no one had so clearly done justice to their sublimity and beauty; but most striking of all was his discussion of Solomon’s Song. For over twenty centuries it had been customary to attribute to it mystical meanings. If here and there some man saw the truth, he was careful, like Aben Ezra, to speak with bated breath.
The penalty for any more honest interpretation was seen, among Protestants, when Calvin and Beza persecuted Castellio, covered him with obloquy, and finally drove him to starvation and death, for throwing light upon the real character of the Song of Songs; and among Catholics it was seen when Philip II allowed the pious and gifted Luis de Leon, for a similar offence, to be thrown into a dungeon of the Inquisition and kept there for five years, until his health was utterly shattered and his spirit so broken that he consented to publish a new commentary on the song, “as theological and obscure as the most orthodox could desire.”
Here, too, we have an example of the efficiency of the older biblical theology in fettering the stronger minds and in stupefying the weaker. Just as the book of Genesis had to wait over two thousand years for a physician to reveal the simplest fact regarding its structure, so the Song of Songs had to wait even longer for a poet to reveal not only its beauty but its character. Commentators innumerable had interpreted it; St. Bernard had preached over eighty sermons on its first two chapters; Palestrina had set its most erotic parts to sacred music; Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants, from Origen to Aben Ezra and from Luther to Bossuet, had uncovered its deep meanings and had demonstrated it to be anything and everything save that which it really is. Among scores of these strange imaginations it was declared to represent the love of Jehovah for Israel; the love of Christ for the Church; the praises of the Blessed Virgin; the union of the soul with the body; sacred history from the Exodus to the Messiah; Church history from the Crucifixion to the Reformation; and some of the more acute Protestant divines found in it references even to the religious wars in Germany and to the Peace of Passau. In these days it seems hard to imagine how really competent reasoners could thus argue without laughing in each other’s faces, after the manner of Cicero’s augurs. Herder showed Solomon’s Song to be what the whole thinking world now knows it to be–simply an Oriental love-poem.
But his frankness brought him into trouble: he was bitterly assailed. Neither his noble character nor his genius availed him. Obliged to flee from one pastorate to another, he at last found a happy refuge at Weimar in the society of Goethe, Wieland, and Jean Paul, and thence he exercised a powerful influence in removing noxious and parasitic growths from religious thought.
It would hardly be possible to imagine a man more different from Herder than was the other of the two who most influenced biblical interpretation at the end of the eighteenth century. This was Alexander Geddes–a Roman Catholic priest and a Scotchman. Having at an early period attracted much attention by his scholarship, and having received the very rare distinction, for a Catholic, of a doctorate from the University of Aberdeen, he began publishing in 1792 a new translation of the Old Testament, and followed this in 1800 with a volume of critical remarks. In these he supported mainly three views: first, that the Pentateuch in its present form could not have been written by Moses; secondly, that it was the work of various hands; and, thirdly, that it could not have been written before the time of David. Although there was a fringe of doubtful theories about them, these main conclusions, supported as they were by deep research and cogent reasoning, are now recognised as of great value. But such was not the orthodox opinion then. Though a man of sincere piety, who throughout his entire life remained firm in the faith of his fathers, he and his work were at once condemnned: he was suspended by the Catholic authorities as a misbeliever, denounced by Protestants as an infidel, and taunted by both as “a would-be corrector of the Holy Ghost.” Of course, by this taunt was meant nothing more than that he dissented from sundry ideas inherited from less enlightened times by the men who just then happened to wield ecclesiastical power.
But not all the opposition to him could check the evolution of his thought. A line of great men followed in these paths opened by Astruc and Eichhorn, and broadened by Herder and Geddes. Of these was De Wette, whose various works, especially his _Introduction to the Old Testament_, gave a new impulse early in the nineteenth century to fruitful thought throughout Christendom. In these writings, while showing how largely myths and legends had entered into the Hebrew sacred books, he threw especial light into the books Deuteronomy and Chronicles. The former he showed to be, in the main, a late priestly summary of law, and the latter a very late priestly recast of early history. He had, indeed, to pay a penalty for thus aiding the world in its march toward more truth, for he was driven out of Germany, and obliged to take refuge in a Swiss professorship; while Theodore Parker, who published an English translation of his work, was, for this and similar sins, virtually rejected by what claimed to be the most liberal of all Christian bodies in the United States.
But contributions to the new thought continued from quarters whence least was expected. Gesenius, by his Hebrew Grammar, and Ewald, by his historical studies, greatly advanced it.
To them and to all like them during the middle years of the nineteenth century was sturdily opposed the colossus of orthodoxy–Hengstenberg. In him was combined the haughtiness of a Prussian drill-sergeant, the zeal of a Spanish inquisitor, and the flippant brutality of a French orthodox journalist. Behind him stood the gifted but erratic Frederick William IV–a man admirably fitted for a professorship of aesthetics, but whom an inscrutable fate had made King of Prussia. Both these rulers in the German Israel arrayed all possible opposition against the great scholars labouring in the new paths; but this opposition was vain: the succession of acute and honest scholars contiuued: Vatke, Bleek, Reuss, Graf, Kayser, Hupfeld, Delitzsch, Kuenen, and others wrought on in Germany and Holland, steadily developing the new truth.
Especially to be mentioned among these is Hupfeld, who published in 1853 his treatise on _The Sources of Genesis_. Accepting the _Conjectures_ which Astruc had published just a hundred years before, he established what has ever since been recognised by the leading biblical commentators as the true basis of work upon the Pentateuch–the fact that _three_ true documents are combined in Genesis, each with its own characteristics. He, too, had to pay a price for letting more light upon the world. A determined attempt was made to punish him. Though deeply religious in his nature and aspirations, he was denounced in 1865 to the Prussian Government as guilty of irreverence; but, to the credit of his noble and true colleagues who trod in the more orthodox paths–men like Tholuck and Julius Muller–the theological faculty of the University of Halle protested against this persecuting effort, and it was brought to naught.
The demonstrations of Hupfeld gave new life to biblical scholarship in all lands. More and more clear became the evidence that throughout the Pentateuch, and indeed in other parts of our sacred books, there had been a fusion of various ideas, a confounding of various epochs, and a compilation of various documents. Thus was opened a new field of thought and work: in sifting out this literature; in rearranging it; and in bringing it into proper connection with the history of the Jewish race and of humanity.
Astruc and Hupfeld having thus found a key to the true character of the “Mosaic” Scriptures, a second key was found which opened the way to the secret of order in all this chaos. For many generations one thing had especially puzzled commentators and given rise to masses of futile “reconciliation”: this was the patent fact that such men as Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah, and indeed the whole Jewish people down to the Exile, showed in all their utterances and actions that they were utterly ignorant of that vast system of ceremonial law which, according to the accounts attributed to Moses and other parts of our sacred books, was in full force during their time and during nearly a thousand years before the Exile. It was held “always, everywhere, and by all,” that in the Old Testament the chronological order of revelation was: first, the law; secondly, the Psalms; thirdly, the prophets. This belief continued unchallenged during more than two thousand years, and until after the middle of the nineteenth century.
Yet, as far back as 1835, Vatke at Berlin had, in his _Religion of the Old Testament_, expressed his conviction that this belief was unfounded. Reasoning that Jewish thought must have been subject to the laws of development which govern other systems, he arrived at the conclusion that the legislation ascribed to Moses, and especially the elaborate paraphernalia and composite ceremonies of the ritual, could not have come into being at a period so rude as that depicted in the “Mosaic” accounts.
Although Vatke wrapped this statement in a mist of Hegelian metaphysics, a sufficient number of watchmen on the walls of the Prussian Zion saw its meaning, and an alarm was given. The chroniclers tell us that “fear of failing in the examinations, through knowing too much, kept students away from Vatke’s lectures.” Naturally, while Hengstenberg and Frederick William IV were commanding the forces of orthodoxy, Vatke thought it wise to be silent.
Still, the new idea was in the air; indeed, it had been divined about a year earlier, on the other side of the Rhine, by a scholar well known as acute and thoughtful–Reuss, of Strasburg. Unfortunately, he too was overawed, and he refrained from publishing his thought during more than forty years. But his ideas were caught by some of his most gifted scholars; and, of these, Graf and Kayser developed them and had the courage to publish them.
At the same period this new master key was found and applied by a greater man than any of these–by Kuenen, of Holland; and thus it was that three eminent scholars, working in different parts of Europe and on different lines, in spite of all obstacles, joined in enforcing upon the thinking world the conviction that the complete Levitical law had been established not at the beginning, but at the end, of the Jewish nation–mainly, indeed, after the Jewish nation as an independent political body had ceased to exist; that this code had not been revealed in the childhood of Israel, but that it had come into being in a perfectly natural way during Israel’s final decay–during the period when heroes and prophets had been succeeded by priests. Thus was the historical and psychological evolution of Jewish institutions brought into harmony with the natural development of human thought; elaborate ceremonial institutions being shown to have come after the ruder beginnings of religious development instead of before them. Thus came a new impulse to research, and the fruitage was abundant; the older theological interpretation, with its insoluble puzzles, yielded on all sides.
The lead in the new epoch thus opened was taken by Kuenen. Starting with strong prepossessions in favour of the older thought, and even with violent utterances against some of the supporters of the new view, he was borne on by his love of truth, until his great work, _The Religion of Israel_, published in 1869, attracted the attention of thinking scholars throughout the world by its arguments in favour of the upward movement. From him now came a third master key to the mystery; for he showed that the true opening point for research into the history and literature of Israel is to be found in the utterances of the great prophets of the eighth century before our era. Starting from these, he opened new paths into the periods preceding and following them. Recognising the fact that the religion of Israel was, like other great world religions, a development of higher ideas out of lower, he led men to bring deeper thinking and wider research into the great problem. With ample learning and irresistible logic he proved that Old Testament history is largely mingled with myth and legend; that not only were the laws attributed to Moses in the main a far later development, but that much of their historical setting was an afterthought; also that Old Testament prophecy was never supernaturally predictive, and least of all predictive of events recorded in the New Testament. Thus it was that his genius gave to the thinking world a new point of view, and a masterly exhibition of the true method of study. Justly has one of the most eminent divines of the contemporary Anglican Church indorsed the statement of another eminent scholar, that “Kuenen stood upon his watch-tower, as it were the conscience of Old Testament science”; that his work is characterized “not merely by fine scholarship, critical insight, historical sense, and a religious nature, but also by an incorruptible conscientiousness, and a majestic devotion to the quest of truth.”
Thus was established the science of biblical criticism. And now the question was, whether the Church of northern Germany would accept this great gift–the fruit of centuries of devoted toil and self-sacrifice–and take the lead of Christendom in and by it.
The great curse of Theology and Ecclesiasticism has always been their tendency to sacrifice large interests to small–Charity to Creed, Unity to Uniformity, Fact to Tradition, Ethics to Dogma. And now there were symptoms throughout the governing bodies of the Reformed churches indicating a determination to sacrifice leadership in this new thought to ease in orthodoxy. Every revelation of new knowledge encountered outcry, opposition, and repression; and, what was worse, the ill-judged declarations of some unwise workers in the critical field were seized upon and used to discredit all fruitful research. Fortunately, a man now appeared who both met all this opposition successfully, and put aside all the half truths or specious untruths urged by minor critics whose zeal outran their discretion. This was a great constructive scholar–not a destroyer, but a builder–Wellhausen. Reverently, but honestly and courageously, with clearness, fulness, and convicting force, he summed up the conquests of scientific criticism as bearing on Hebrew history and literature. These conquests had reduced the vast structures which theologians had during ages been erecting over the sacred text to shapeless ruin and rubbish: this rubbish he removed, and brought out from beneath it the reality. He showed Jewish history as an evolution obedient to laws at work in all ages, and Jewish literature as a growth out of individual, tribal, and national life. Thus was our sacred history and literature given a beauty and high use which had long been foreign to them. Thereby was a vast service rendered immediately to Germany, and eventually to all mankind; and this service was greatest of all in the domain of religion.
The science of biblical criticism was, as we have seen, first developed mainly in Germany and Holland. Many considerations there, as elsewhere, combined to deter men from opening new paths to truth: not even in those countries were these the paths to preferment; but there, at least, the sturdy Teutonic love of truth for truth’s sake, strengthened by the Kantian ethics, found no such obstacles as in other parts of Europe. Fair investigation of biblical subjects had not there been extirpated, as in Italy and Spain; nor had it been forced into channels which led nowhither, as in France and southern Germany; nor were men who might otherwise have pursued it dazzled and drawn away from it by the multitude of splendid prizes for plausibility, for sophistry, or for silence displayed before the ecclesiastical vision in England. In the frugal homes of North German and Dutch professors and pastors high thinking on these great subjects went steadily on, and the “liberty of teaching,” which is the glory of the northern Continental universities, while it did not secure honest thinkers against vexations, did at least protect them against the persecutions which in other countries would have thwarted their studies and starved their families.
In England the admission of the new current of thought was apparently impossible. The traditional system of biblical interpretation seemed established on British soil forever. It was knit into the whole fabric of thought and observance; it was protected by the most justly esteemed hierarchy the world has ever seen; it was intrenched behind the bishops’ palaces, the cathedral stalls, the professors’ chairs, the country parsonages–all these, as a rule, the seats of high endeavour and beautiful culture. The older thought held a controlling voice in the senate of the nation; it was dear to the hearts of all classes; it was superbly endowed; every strong thinker seemed to hold a brief, or to be in receipt of a retaining fee for it. As to preferment in the Church, there was a cynical aphorism current, “He may hold anything who will hold his tongue.”
Yet, while there was inevitably much alloy of worldly wisdom in the opposition to the new thought, no just thinker can deny far higher motives to many, perhaps to most, of the ecclesiastics who were resolute against it. The evangelical movement incarnate in the Wesleys had not spent its strength; the movement begun by Pusey, Newman, Keble, and their compeers was in full force. The aesthetic reaction, represented on the Continent by Chateaubriand, Manzoni, and Victor Hugo, and in England by Walter Scott, Pugin, Ruskin, and above all by Wordsworth, came in to give strength to this barrier. Under the magic of the men who led in this reaction, cathedrals and churches, which in the previous century had been regarded by men of culture as mere barbaric masses of stone and mortar, to be masked without by classic colonnades and within by rococo work in stucco and _papier mache_, became even more beloved than in the thirteenth century. Even men who were repelled by theological disputations were fascinated and made devoted reactionists by the newly revealed beauties of medieval architecture and ritual.[334b]
The centre and fortress of this vast system, and of the reaction against the philosophy of the eighteenth century, was the University of Oxford. Orthodoxy was its vaunt, and a special exponent of its spirit and object of its admiration was its member of Parliament, Mr, William Ewart Gladstone, who, having begun his political career by a laboured plea for the union of church and state, ended it by giving that union what is likely to be a death-blow. The mob at the circus of Constantinople in the days of the Byzantine emperors was hardly more wildly orthodox than the mob of students at this foremost seat of learning of the Anglo-Saxon race during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The Moslem students of El Azhar are hardly more intolerant now than these English students were then. A curious proof of this had been displayed just before the end of that period. The minister of the United States at the court of St. James was then Edward Everett. He was undoubtedly the most accomplished scholar and one of the foremost statesmen that America had produced; his eloquence in early life had made him perhaps the most admired of American preachers; his classical learning had at a later period made him Professor of Greek at Harvard; he had successfully edited the leading American review, and had taken a high place in American literature; he had been ten years a member of Congress; he had been again and again elected Governor of Massachusetts; and in all these posts he had shown amply those qualities which afterward made him President of Harvard, Secretary of State of the United States, and a United States Senator. His character and attainments were of the highest, and, as he was then occupying the foremost place in the diplomatic service of his country, he was invited to receive an appropriate honorary degree at Oxford. But, on his presentation for it in the Sheldonian Theatre, there came a revelation to the people he represented, and indeed to all Christendom: a riot having been carefully prepared beforehand by sundry zealots, he was most grossly and ingeniously insulted by the mob of undergraduates and bachelors of art in the galleries and masters of arts on the floor; and the reason for this was that, though by no means radical in his religious opinions, he was thought to have been in his early life, and to be possibly at that time, below what was then the Oxford fashion in belief, or rather feeling, regarding the mystery of the Trinity.
At the centre of biblical teaching at Oxford sat Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew, a scholar who had himself remained for a time at a German university, and who early in life had imbibed just enough of the German spirit to expose him to suspicion and even to attack. One charge against him at that time shows curiously what was then expected of a man perfectly sound in the older Anglican theology. He had ventured to defend holy writ with the argument that there were fishes actually existing which could have swallowed the prophet Jonah. The argument proved unfortunate. He was attacked on the scriptural ground that the fish which swallowed Jonah was created for that express purpose. He, like others, fell back under the charm of the old system: his ideas gave force to the reaction: in the quiet of his study, which, especially after the death of his son, became a hermitage, he relapsed into patristic and medieval conceptions of Christianity, enforcing them from the pulpit and in his published works. He now virtually accepted the famous dictum of Hugo of St. Victor–that one is first to find what is to be believed, and then to search the Scriptures for proofs of it. His devotion to the main features of the older interpretation was seen at its strongest in his utterances regarding the book of Daniel. Just as Cardinal Bellarmine had insisted that the doctrine of the incarnation depends upon the retention of the Ptolemaic astronomy; just as Danzius had insisted that the very continuance of religion depends on the divine origin of the Hebrew punctuation; just as Peter Martyr had made everything sacred depend on the literal acceptance of Genesis; just as Bishop Warburton had insisted that Christianity absolutely depends upon a right interpretation of the prophecies regarding Antichrist; just as John Wesley had insisted that the truth of the Bible depends on the reality of witchcraft; just as, at a later period, Bishop Wilberforce insisted that the doctrine of the Incarnation depends on the “Mosaic” statements regarding the origin of man; and just as Canon Liddon insisted that Christianity itself depends on a literal belief in Noah’s flood, in the transformation of Lot’s wife, and in the sojourn of Jonah in the whale: so did Pusey then virtually insist that Christianity must stand or fall with the early date of the book of Daniel. Happily, though the Ptolemaic astronomy, and witchcraft, and the Genesis creation myths, and the Adam, Noah, Lot, and Jonah legends, and the divine origin of the Hebrew punctuation, and the prophecies regarding Antichrist, and the early date of the book of Daniel have now been relegated to the limbo of ontworn beliefs, Christianity has but come forth the stronger.
Nothing seemed less likely than that such a vast intrenched camp as that of which Oxford was the centre could be carried by an effort proceeding from a few isolated German and Dutch scholars. Yet it was the unexpected which occurred; and it is instructive to note that, even at the period when the champions of the older thought were to all appearance impregnably intrenched in England, a way had been opened into their citadel, and that the most effective agents in preparing it were really the very men in the universities and cathedral chapters who had most distinguished themselves by uncompromising and intolerant orthodoxy.
A rapid survey of the history of general literary criticism at that epoch will reveal this fact fully. During the last decade of the seventeenth century there had taken place the famous controversy over the _Letters of Phalaris_, in which, against Charles Boyle and his supporters at Oxford, was pitted Richard Bentley at Cambridge, who insisted that the letters were spurious. In the series of battles royal which followed, although Boyle, aided by Atterbury, afterward so noted for his mingled ecclesiastical and political intrigues, had gained a temporary triumph by wit and humour, Bentley’s final attack had proved irresistible. Drawing from the stores of his wonderfully wide and minute knowledge, he showed that the letters could not have been written in the time of Phalaris–proving this by an exhibition of their style, which could not then have been in use, of their reference to events which had not then taken place, and of a mass of considerations which no one but a scholar almost miraculously gifted could have marshalled so fully. The controversy had attracted attention not only in England but throughout Europe. With Bentley’s reply it had ended. In spite of public applause at Atterbury’s wit, scholars throughout the world acknowledged Bentley’s victory: he was recognised as the foremost classical scholar of his time; the mastership of Trinity, which he accepted, and the Bristol bishopric, which he rejected, were his formal reward.
Although, in his new position as head of the greatest college in England, he went to extreme lengths on the orthodox side in biblical theology, consenting even to support the doctrine that the Hebrew punctuation was divinely inspired, this was as nothing compared with the influence of the system of criticism which he introduced into English studies of classical literature in preparing the way for the application of a similar system to _all_ literature, whether called sacred or profane.
Up to that period there had really been no adequate criticism of ancient literature. Whatever name had been attached to any ancient writing was usually accepted as the name of the author: what texts should be imputed to an author was settled generally on authority. But with Bentley began a new epoch. His acute intellect and exquisite touch revealed clearly to English scholars the new science of criticism, and familiarized the minds of thinking men with the idea that the texts of ancient literature must be submitted to this science. Henceforward a new spirit reigned among the best classical scholars, prophetic of more and more light in the greater field of sacred literature. Scholars, of whom Porson was chief, followed out this method, and though at times, as in Porson’s own case, they were warned off, with much loss and damage, from the application of it to the sacred text, they kept alive the better tradition.
A hundred years after Bentley’s main efforts appeared in Germany another epoch-making book–Wolf’s _Introduction to Homer_. In this was broached the theory that the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ are not the works of a single great poet, but are made up of ballad literature wrought into unity by more or less skilful editing. In spite of various changes and phases of opinion on this subject since Wolf’s day, he dealt a killing blow at the idea that classical works are necessarily to be taken at what may be termed their face value.
More and more clearly it was seen that the ideas of early copyists, and even of early possessors of masterpieces in ancient literature, were entirely different from those to which the modern world is accustomed. It was seen that manipulations and interpolations in the text by copyists and possessors had long been considered not merely venial sins, but matters of right, and that even the issuing of whole books under assumed names had been practised freely.
In 1811 a light akin to that thrown by Bentley and Wolf upon ancient literature was thrown by Niebuhr upon ancient history. In his _History of Rome_ the application of scientific principles to the examination of historical sources was for the first time exhibited largely and brilliantly. Up to that period the time-honoured utterances of ancient authorities had been, as a rule, accepted as final: no breaking away, even from the most absurd of them, was looked upon with favour, and any one presuming to go behind them was regarded as troublesome and even as dangerous.
Through this sacred conventionalism Niebuhr broke fearlessly, and, though at times overcritical, he struck from the early history of Rome a vast mass of accretions, and gave to the world a residue infinitely more valuable than the original amalgam of myth, legend, and chronicle.
His methods were especially brought to bear on students’ history by one of the truest men and noblest scholars that the English race has produced–Arnold of Rugby–and, in spite of the inevitable heavy conservatism, were allowed to do their work in the field of ancient history as well as in that of ancient classical literature.
The place of myth in history thus became more and more understood, and historical foundations, at least so far as _secular_ history was concerned, were henceforth dealt with in a scientific spirit. The extension of this new treatment to _all_ ancient literature and history was now simply a matter of time.
Such an extension had already begun; for in 1829 had appeared Milman’s _History of the Jews_. In this work came a further evolution of the truths and methods suggested by Bentley, Wolf, and Niebuhr, and their application to sacred history was made strikingly evident. Milman, though a clergyman, treated the history of the chosen people in the light of modern knowledge of Oriental and especially of Semitic peoples. He exhibited sundry great biblical personages of the wandering days of Israel as sheiks or emirs or Bedouin chieftains; and the tribes of Israel as obedient then to the same general laws, customs, and ideas governing wandering tribes in the same region now. He dealt with conflicting sources somewhat in the spirit of Bentley, and with the mythical, legendary, and miraculous somewhat in the spirit of Niebuhr. This treatment of the history of the Jews, simply as the development of an Oriental tribe, raised great opposition. Such champions of orthodoxy as Bishop Mant and Dr. Faussett straightway took the field, and with such effect that the _Family Library_, a very valuable series in which Milman’s history appeared, was put under the ban, and its further publication stopped. For years Milman, though a man of exquisite literary and lofty historical gifts, as well as of most honourable character, was debarred from preferment and outstripped by ecclesiastics vastly inferior to him in everything save worldly wisdom; for years he was passed in the race for honours by divines who were content either to hold briefs for all the contemporary unreason which happened to be popular, or to keep their mouths shut altogether. This opposition to him extended to his works. For many years they were sneered at, decried, and kept from the public as far as possible.
Fortunately, the progress of events lifted him, before the closing years of his life, above all this opposition. As Dean of St. Paul’s he really outranked the contemporary archbishops: he lived to see his main ideas accepted, and his _History of Latin Christianity_ received as certainly one of the most valuable, and no less certainly the most attractive, of all Church histories ever written.
The two great English histories of Greece–that by Thirlwall, which was finished, and that by Grote, which was begun, in the middle years of the nineteenth century–came in to strengthen this new development. By application of the critical method to historical sources, by pointing out more and more fully the inevitable part played by myth and legend in early chronicles, by displaying more and more clearly the ease with which interpolations of texts, falsifications of statements, and attributions to pretended authors were made, they paved the way still further toward a just and fruitful study of sacred literature.
Down to the middle of the nineteenth century the traditionally orthodox side of English scholarship, while it had not been able to maintain any effective quarantine against Continental criticism of classical literature, had been able to keep up barriers fairly strong against Continental discussions of sacred literature. But in the second half of the nineteenth century these barriers were broken at many points, and, the stream of German thought being united with the current of devotion to truth in England, there appeared early in 1860 a modest volume entitled _Essays and Reviews_. This work discussed sundry of the older theological positions which had been rendered untenable by modern research, and brought to bear upon them the views of the newer school of biblical interpretation. The authors were, as a rule, scholars in the prime of life, holding influential positions in the universities and public schools. They were seven–the first being Dr. Temple, a successor of Arnold at Rugby; and the others, the Rev. Dr. Rowland Williams, Prof. Baden Powell, the Rev. H. B. Wilson, Mr. C. W. Goodwin, the Rev. Mark Pattison, and the Rev. Prof. Jowett–the only one of the seven not in holy orders being Goodwin. All the articles were important, though the first, by Temple, on _The Education of the world_, and the last, by Jowett, on _The Interpretation of Scripture_, being the most moderate, served most effectually as entering wedges into the old tradition.
At first no great attention was paid to the book, the only notice being the usual attempts in sundry clerical newspapers to pooh-pooh it. But in October, 1860, appeared in the _Westminster Review_ an article exulting in the work as an evidence that the new critical method had at last penetrated the Church of England. The opportunity for defending the Church was at once seized by no less a personage than Bishop Wilberforce, of Oxford, the same who a few months before had secured a fame more lasting than enviable by his attacks on Darwin and the evolutionary theory. His first onslaught was made in a charge to his clergy. This he followed up with an article in the _Quarterly Review_, very explosive in its rhetoric, much like that which he had devoted in the same periodical to Darwin. The bishop declared that the work tended “toward infidelity, if not to atheism”; that the writers had been “guilty of criminal levity”; that, with the exception of the essay by Dr. Temple, their writings were “full of sophistries and scepticisms.” He was especially bitter against Prof. Jowett’s dictum, “Interpret the Scripture like any other book”; he insisted that Mr. Goodwin’s treatment of the Mosaic account of the origin of man “sweeps away the whole basis of inspiration and leaves no place for the Incarnation”; and through the article were scattered such rhetorical adornments as the words “infidel,” “atheistic,” “false,” and “wanton.” It at once attracted wide attention, but its most immediate effect was to make the fortune of _Essays and Reviews_, which was straightway demanded on every hand, went through edition after edition, and became a power in the land. At this a panic began, and with the usual results of panic–much folly and some cruelty. Addresses from clergy and laity, many of them frantic with rage and fear, poured in upon the bishops, begging them to save Christianity and the Church: a storm of abuse arose: the seven essayists were stigmatized as “the seven extinguishers of the seven lamps of the Apocalypse,” “the seven champions _not_ of Christendom.” As a result of all this pressure, Sumner, Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the last of the old, kindly, bewigged pluralists of the Georgian period, headed a declaration, which was signed by the Archbishop of York and a long list of bishops, expressing pain at the appearance of the book, but doubts as to the possibility of any effective dealing with it. This letter only made matters worse. The orthodox decried it as timid, and the liberals denounced it as irregular. The same influences were exerted in the sister island, and the Protestant archbishops in Ireland issued a joint letter warning the faithful against the “disingenuousness” of the book. Everything seemed to increase the ferment. A meeting of clergy and laity having been held at Oxford in the matter of electing a Professor of Sanscrit, the older orthodox party, having made every effort to defeat the eminent scholar Max Miller, and all in vain, found relief after their defeat in new denunciations of _Essays and Reviews_.
Of the two prelates who might have been expected to breast the storm, Tait, Bishop of London, afterward Archbishop of Canterbury, bent to it for a period, though he soon recovered himself and did good service; the other, Thirlwall, Bishop of St. David’s, bided his time, and, when the proper moment came, struck most effective blows for truth and justice.
Tait, large-minded and shrewd, one of the most statesmanlike of prelates, at first endeavoured to detach Temple and Jowett from their associates; but, though Temple was broken down with a load of care, and especially by the fact that he had upon his shoulders the school at Rugby, whose patrons had become alarmed at his connection with the book, he showed a most refreshing courage and manliness. A passage from his letters to the Bishop of London runs as follows: “With regard to my own conduct I can only say that nothing on earth will induce me to do what you propose. I do not judge for others, but in me it would be base and untrue.” On another occasion Dr. Temple, when pressed in the interest of the institution of learning under his care to detach himself from his associates in writing the book, declared to a meeting of the masters of the school that, if any statements were made to the effect that he disapproved of the other writers in the volume, he should probably find it his duty to contradict them. Another of these letters to the Bishop of London contains sundry passages of great force. One is as follows: “Many years ago you urged us from the university pulpit to undertake the critical study of the Bible. You said that it was a dangerous study, but indispensable. You described its difficulties, and those who listened must have felt a confidence (as I assuredly did, for I was there) that if they took your advice and entered on the task, you, at any rate, would never join in treating them unjustly if their study had brought with it the difficulties you described. Such a study, so full of difficulties, imperatively demands freedom for its condition. To tell a man to study, and yet bid him, under heavy penalties, come to the same conclusions with those who have not studied, is to mock him. If the conclusions are prescribed, the study is precluded.” And again, what, as coming from a man who has since held two of the most important bishoprics in the English Church, is of great importance: “What can be a grosser superstition than the theory of literal inspiration? But because that has a regular footing it is to be treated as a good man’s mistake, while the courage to speak the truth about the first chapter of Genesis is a wanton piece of wickedness.”
The storm howled on. In the Convocation of Canterbury it was especially violent. In the Lower House Archdeacon Denison insisted on the greatest severity, as he said, “for the sake of the young who are tainted, and corrupted, and thrust almost to hell by the action of this book.” At another time the same eminent churchman declared: “Of all books in any language which I ever laid my hands on, this is incomparably the worst; it contains all the poison which is to be found in Tom Paine’s _Age of Reason_, while it has the additional disadvantage of having been written by clergymen.”
Hysterical as all this was, the Upper House was little more self-contained. Both Tait and Thirlwall, trying to make some headway against the swelling tide, were for a time beaten back by Wilberforce, who insisted on the duty of the Church to clear itself publicly from complicity with men who, as he said, “gave up God’s Word, Creation, redemption, and the work of the Holy Ghost.”
The matter was brought to a curious issue by two prosecutions–one against the Rev. Dr. Williams by the Bishop of Salisbury, the other against the Rev. Mr. Wilson by one of his clerical brethren. The first result was that both these authors were sentenced to suspension from their offices for a year. At this the two condemned clergymen appealed to the Queen in Council. Upon the judicial committee to try the case in last resort sat the lord chancellor, the two archbishops, and the Bishop of London; and one occurrence now brought into especial relief the power of the older theological reasoning and ecclesiastical zeal to close the minds of the best of men to the simplest principles of right and justice. Among the men of his time most deservedly honoured for lofty character, thorough scholarship, and keen perception of right and justice was Dr. Pusey. No one doubted then, and no one doubts now, that he would have gone to the stake sooner than knowingly countenance wrong or injustice; and yet we find him at this time writing a series of long and earnest letters to the Bishop of London, who, as a judge, was hearing this case, which involved the livelihood and even the good name of the men on trial, pointing out to the bishop the evil consequences which must follow should the authors of _Essays and Reviews_ be acquitted, and virtually beseeching the judges, on grounds of expediency, to convict them. Happily, Bishop Tait was too just a man to be thrown off his bearings by appeals such as this.
The decision of the court, as finally rendered by the lord chancellor, virtually declared it to be no part of the duty of the tribunal to pronounce any opinion upon the book; that the court only had to do with certain extracts which had been presented. Among these was one adduced in support of a charge against Mr. Wilson–that he denied the doctrine of eternal punishment. On this the court decided that it did “not find in the formularies of the English Church any such distinct declaration upon the subject as to require it to punish the expression of a hope by a clergyman that even the ultimate pardon of the wicked who are condemned in the day of judgment may be consistent with the will of Almighty God.” While the archbishops dissented from this judgment, Bishop Tait united in it with the lord chancellor and the lay judges.
And now the panic broke out more severely than ever. Confusion became worse confounded. The earnest-minded insisted that the tribunal had virtually approved _Essays and Reviews_; the cynical remarked that it had “dismissed hell with costs.” An alliance was made at once between the more zealous High and Low Church men, and Oxford became its headquarters: Dr. Pusey and Archdeacon Denison were among the leaders, and an impassioned declaration was posted to every clergyman in England and Ireland, with a letter begging him, “for the love of God,” to sign it. Thus it was that in a very short time eleven thousand signatures were obtained. Besides this, deputations claiming to represent one hundred and thirty-seven thousand laymen waited on the archbishops to thank them for dissenting from the judgment. The Convocation of Canterbury also plunged into the fray, Bishop Wilberforce being the champion of the older orthodoxy, and Bishop Tait of the new. Caustic was the speech made by Bishop Thirlwall, in which he declared that he considered the eleven thousand names, headed by that of Pusey, attached to the Oxford declaration “in the light of a row of figures preceded by a decimal point, so that, however far the series may be advanced, it never can rise to the value of a single unit.”
In spite of all that could be done, the act of condemnation was carried in Convocation.
The last main echo of this whole struggle against the newer mode of interpretation was heard when the chancellor, referring to the matter in the House of Lords, characterized the ecclesiastical act as “simply a series of well-lubricated terms–a sentence so oily and saponaceous that no one can grasp it; like an eel, it slips through your fingers, and is simply nothing.”
The word “saponaceous” necessarily elicited a bitter retort from Bishop Wilberforce; but perhaps the most valuable judgment on the whole matter was rendered by Bishop Tait, who declared, “These things have so effectually frightened the clergy that I think there is scarcely a bishop on the bench, unless it be the Bishop of St. David’s [Thirlwall], that is not useless for the purpose of preventing the widespread alienation of intelligent men.”
During the whole controversy, and for some time afterward, the press was burdened with replies, ponderous and pithy, lurid and vapid, vitriolic and unctuous, but in the main bearing the inevitable characteristics of pleas for inherited opinions stimulated by ample endowments.
The authors of the book seemed for a time likely to be swept out of the Church. One of the least daring but most eminent, finding himself apparently forsaken, seemed, though a man of very tough fibre, about to die of a broken heart; but sturdy English sense at last prevailed. The storm passed, and afterward came the still, small voice. Really sound thinkers throughout England, especially those who held no briefs for conventional orthodoxy, recognised the service rendered by the book. It was found that, after all, there existed even among churchmen a great mass of public opinion in favour of giving a full hearing to the reverent expression of honest thought, and inclined to distrust any cause which subjected fair play to zeal.
The authors of the work not only remained in the Church of England, but some of them have since represented the broader views, though not always with their early courage, in the highest and most influential positions in the Anglican Church.
In 1862 appeared a work entitled _The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined_ its author being Colenso, Anglican Bishop of Natal, in South Africa. He had formerly been highly esteemed as fellow and tutor at Cambridge, master at Harrow, author of various valuable text-books in mathematics; and as long as he exercised his powers within the limits of popular orthodoxy he was evidently in the way to the highest positions in the Church: but he chose another path. His treatment of his subject was reverent, but he had gradually come to those conclusions, then so daring, now so widespread among Christian scholars, that the Pentateuch, with much valuable historical matter, Contains much that is unhistorical; that a large portion of it was the work of a comparatively late period in Jewish history; that many passages in Deuteronomy could only have been written after the Jews settled in Canaan; that the Mosaic law was not in force before the captivity; that the books of Chronicles were clearly written as an afterthought, to enforce the views of the priestly caste; and that in all the books there is much that is mythical and legendary.
Very justly has a great German scholar recently adduced this work of a churchman relegated to the most petty of bishoprics in one of the most remote corners of the world, as a proof “that the problems of biblical criticism can no longer be suppressed; that they are in the air of our time, so that theology could not escape them even if it took the wings of the morning and dwelt in the uttermost parts of the sea.”
The bishop’s statements, which now seem so moderate, then aroused horror. Especial wrath was caused by some of his arithmetical arguments, and among them those which showed that an army of six hundred thousand men could not have been mobilized in a single night; that three millions of people, with their flocks and herds, could neither have obtained food on so small and arid a desert as that over which they were said to have wandered during forty years, nor water from a single well; and that the butchery of two hundred thousand Midianites by twelve thousand israelites, “exceeding infinitely in atrocity the tragedy at Cawnpore, had happily only been carried out on paper.” There was nothing of the scoffer in him. While preserving his own independence, he had kept in touch with the most earnest thought both among European scholars and in the little flock intrusted to his care. He evidently remembered what had resulted from the attempt to hold the working classes in the towns of France, Germany, and Italy to outworn beliefs; he had found even the Zulus, whom he thought to convert, suspicious of the legendary features of the Old Testament, and with his clear practical mind he realized the danger which threatened the English Church and Christianity–the danger of tying its religion and morality to interpretations and conceptions of Scripture more and more widely seen and felt to be contrary to facts. He saw the especial peril of sham explanations, of covering up facts which must soon be known, and which, when revealed, must inevitably bring the plain people of England to regard their teachers, even the most deserving, as “solemnly constituted impostors”–ecclesiastics whose tenure depends on assertions which they know to be untrue. Therefore it was that, when his catechumens questioned him regarding some of the Old Testament legends, the bishop determined to tell the truth. He says: “My heart answered in the words of the prophet, `Shall a man speak lies in the name of the Lord?’ I determined not to do so.”
But none of these considerations availed in his behalf at first. The outcry against the work was deafening: churchmen and dissenters rushed forward to attack it. Archdeacon Denison, chairman of the committee of Convocation appointed to examine it, uttered a noisy anathema. Convocation solemnly condemned it; and a zealous colonial bishop, relying upon a nominal supremacy, deposed and excommunicated its author, declaring him “given over to Satan.” On both sides of the Atlantic the press groaned with “answers,” some of these being especially injurious to the cause they were intended to serve, and none more so than sundry efforts by the bishops themselves. One of the points upon which they attacked him was his assertion that the reference in Leviticus to the hare chewing its cud contains an error. Upon this Prof. Hitzig, of Leipsic, one of the best Hebrew scholars of his time, remarked: “Your bishops are making themselves the laughing-stock of Europe. Every Hebraist knows that the animal mentioned in Leviticus is really the hare;… every zoologist knows that it does not chew the cud.”
On Colenso’s return to Natal, where many of the clergy and laity who felt grateful for his years of devotion to them received him with signs of affection, an attempt was made to ruin these clergymen by depriving them of their little stipends, and to terrify the simple-minded laity by threatening them with the same “greater excommunication” which had been inflicted upon their bishop. To make the meaning of this more evident, the vicar-general of the Bishop of Cape Town met Colenso at the door of his own cathedral, and solemnly bade him “depart from the house of God as one who has been handed over to the Evil One.” The sentence of excommunication was read before the assembled faithful, and they were enjoined to treat their bishop as “a heathen man and a publican.” But these and a long series of other persecutions created a reaction in his favour.
There remained to Colenso one bulwark which his enemies found stronger than they had imagined–the British courts of justice. The greatest efforts were now made to gain the day before these courts, to humiliate Colenso, and to reduce to beggary the clergy who remained faithful to him; and it is worthy of note that one of the leaders in preparing the legal plea of the com mittee against him was Mr. Gladstone.
But this bulwark proved impregnable: both the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Rolls Court decided in Colenso’s favour. Not only were his enemies thus forbidden to deprive him of his salary, but their excommunication of him was made null and void; it became, indeed, a subject of ridicule, and even a man so nurtured in religious sentiment as John Keble confessed and lamented that the English people no longer believed in excommunication. The bitterness of the defeated found vent in the utterances of the colonial metropolitan who had excommunicated Colenso–Bishop Gray, “the Lion of Cape Town”–who denounced the judgment as “awful and profane,” and the Privy Council as “a masterpiece of Satan” and “the great dragon of the English Church.” Even Wilberforce, careful as he was to avoid attacking anything established, alluded with deep regret to “the devotion of the English people to the law in matters of this sort.”
Their failure in the courts only seemed to increase the violence of the attacking party. The Anglican communion, both in England and America, was stirred to its depths against the heretic, and various dissenting bodies strove to show equal zeal. Great pains were taken to root out his reputation: it was declared that he had merely stolen the ideas of rationalists on the Continent by wholesale, and peddled them out in England at retail; the fact being that, while he used all the sources of information at his command, and was large-minded enough to put himself into relations with the best biblical scholarship of the Continent, he was singularly independent in his judgment, and that his investigations were of lasting value in modifying Continental thought. Kuenen, the most distinguished of all his contemporaries in this field, modified, as he himself declared, one of his own leading theories after reading Colenso’s argument; and other Continental scholars scarcely less eminent acknowledged their great indebtedness to the English scholar for original suggestions.
But the zeal of the bishop’s enemies did not end with calumny. He was socially ostracized–more completely even than Lyell had been after the publication of his _Principles of Geology_ thirty years before. Even old friends left him, among them Frederick Denison Maurice, who, when himself under the ban of heresy, had been defended by Colenso. Nor was Maurice the only heretic who turned against him; Matthew Arnold attacked him, and set up, as a true ideal of the work needed to improve the English Church and people, of all books in the world, Spinoza’s _Tractatus_. A large part of the English populace was led to regard him as an “infidel,” a “traitor,” an “apostate,” and even as “an unclean being”; servants left his house in horror; “Tray, Blanche, and Sweetheart were let loose upon him”; and one of the favourite amusements of the period among men of petty wit and no convictions was the devising of light ribaldry against him.
In the midst of all this controversy stood three men, each of whom has connected his name with it permanently.
First of these was Samuel Wilberforce, at that time Bishop of Oxford. The gifted son of William Wilberforce, who had been honoured throughout the world for his efforts in the suppression of the slave trade, he had been rapidly advanced in the English Church, and was at this time a prelate of wide influence. He was eloquent and diplomatic, witty and amiable, always sure to be with his fellow-churchmen and polite society against uncomfortable changes. Whether the struggle was against the slave power in the United States, or the squirearchy in Great Britain, or the evolution theory of Darwin, or the new views promulgated by the _Essayists and Reviewers_, he was always the suave spokesman of those who opposed every innovator and “besought him to depart out of their coasts.” Mingling in curious proportions a truly religious feeling with care for his own advancement, his remarkable power in the pulpit gave him great strength to carry out his purposes, and his charming facility in being all things to all men, as well as his skill in evading the consequences of his many mistakes, gained him the sobriquet of “Soapy Sam.” If such brethren of his in the episcopate as Thirlwall and Selwyn and Tait might claim to be in the apostolic succession, Wilberforce was no less surely in the succession from the most gifted and eminently respectable Sadducees who held high preferment under Pontius Pilate.
By a curious coincidence he had only a few years before preached the sermon when Colenso was consecrated in Westminster Abbey, and one passage in it may be cited as showing the preacher’s gift of prophecy both hortatory and predictive. Wilberforce then said to Colenso: “You need boldness to risk all for God–to stand by the truth and its supporters against men’s threatenings and the devil’s wrath;… you need a patient meekness to bear the galling calumnies and false surmises with which, if you are faithful, that same Satanic working, which, if it could, would burn your body, will assuredly assail you daily through the pens and tongues of deceivers and deceived, who, under a semblance of a zeal for Christ, will evermore distort your words, misrepresent your motives, rejoice in your failings, exaggerate your errors, and seek by every poisoned breath of slander to destroy your powers of service.”
Unfortunately, when Colenso followed this advice his adviser became the most untiring of his persecutors. While leaving to men like the Metropolitan of Cape Town and Archdeacon Denison the noisy part of the onslaught, Wilberforce was among those who were most zealous in devising more effective measures.
But time, and even short time, has redressed the balance between the two prelates. Colenso is seen more and more of all men as a righteous leader in a noble effort to cut the Church loose from fatal entanglements with an outworn system of interpretation; Wilberforce, as the remembrance of his eloquence and of his personal charm dies away, and as the revelations of his indiscreet biographers lay bare his modes of procedure, is seen to have left, on the whole, the most disappointing record made by any Anglican prelate during the nineteenth century.
But there was a far brighter page in the history of the Church of England; for the second of the three who linked their names with that of Colenso in the struggle was Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster. His action during this whole persecution was an honour not only to the Anglican Church but to humanity. For his own manhood and the exercise of his own intellectual freedom he had cheerfully given up the high preferment in the Church which had been easily within his grasp. To him truth and justice were more than the decrees of a Convocation of Canterbury or of a Pan-Anglican Synod; in this as in other matters he braved the storm, never yielded to theological prejudice, from first to last held out a brotherly hand to the persecuted bishop, and at the most critical moment opened to him the pulpit of Westminster Abbey.
The third of the high ecclesiastics of the Church of England whose names were linked in this contest was Thirlwall. He was undoubtedly the foremost man in the Church of his time–the greatest ecclesiastical statesman, the profoundest historical scholar, the theologian of clearest vision in regard to the relations between the Church and his epoch. Alone among his brother bishops at this period, he stood “four square to all the winds that blew,” as during all his life he stood against all storms of clerical or popular unreason. He had his reward. He was never advanced beyond a poor Welsh bishopric; but, though he saw men wretchedly inferior constantly promoted beyond him, he never flinched, never lost heart or hope, but bore steadily on, refusing to hold a brief for lucrative injustice, and resisting to the last all reaction and fanaticism, thus preserving not only his own self-respect but the future respect of the English nation for the Church.
A few other leading churchmen were discreetly kind to Colenso, among them Tait, who had now been made Archbishop of Canterbury; but, manly as he was, he was somewhat more cautious in this matter than those who most revere his memory could now wish.
In spite of these friends the clerical onslaught was for a time effective; Colenso, so far as England was concerned, was discredited and virtually driven from his functions. But this enforced leisure simply gave him more time to struggle for the protection of his native flock against colonial rapacity and to continue his great work on the Bible.
His work produced its effect. It had much to do with arousing a new generation of English, Scotch, and American scholars. While very many of his minor statements have since been modified or rejected, his main conclusion was seen more and more clearly to be true. Reverently and in the deepest love for Christianity he had made the unhistorical character of the Pentateuch clear as noonday. Henceforth the crushing weight of the old interpretation upon science and morality and religion steadily and rapidly grew less and less. That a new epoch had come was evident, and out of many proofs of this we may note two of the most striking.
For many years the Bampton Lectures at Oxford had been considered as adding steadily and strongly to the bulwarks of the old orthodoxy. If now and then orthodoxy had appeared in danger from such additions to the series as those made by Dr. Hampden, these lectures had been, as a rule, saturated with the older traditions of the Anglican Church. But now there was an evident change. The departures from the old paths were many and striking, until at last, in 1893, came the lectures on _Inspiration_ by the Rev. Dr. Sanday, Ireland Professor of Exegesis in the University of Oxford. In these, concessions were made to the newer criticism, which at an earlier time would have driven the lecturer not only out of the Church but out of any decent position in society; for Prof. Sanday not only gave up a vast mass of other ideas which the great body of churchmen had regarded as fundamental, but accepted a number of conclusions established by the newer criticism. He declared that Kuenen and Wellhausen had mapped out, on the whole rightly, the main stages of development in the history of Hebrew literature; he incorporated with approval the work of other eminent heretics; he acknowledged that very many statements in the Pentateuch show “the naive ideas and usages of a primitive age.” But, most important of all, he gave up the whole question in regard to the book of Daniel. Up to a time then very recent, the early authorship and predictive character of the book of Daniel were things which no one was allowed for a moment to dispute. Pusey, as we have seen, had proved to the controlling parties in the English Church that Christianity must stand or fall with the traditional view of this book; and now, within a few years of Pusey’s death, there came, in his own university, speaking from the pulpit of St. Mary’s whence he had so often insisted upon the absolute necessity of maintaining the older view, this professor of biblical criticism, a doctor of divinity, showing conclusively as regards the book of Daniel that the critical view had won the day; that the name of Daniel is only assumed; that the book is in no sense predictive, but was written, mainly at least, after the events it describes; that “its author lived at the time of the Maccabean struggle”; that it is very inaccurate even in the simple facts which it cites; and hence that all the vast fabric erected upon its predictive character is baseless.
But another evidence of the coming in of a new epoch was even more striking.
To uproot every growth of the newer thought, to destroy even every germ that had been planted by Colenso and men like him, a special movement was begun, of which the most important part was the establishment, at the University of Oxford, of a college which should bring the old opinion with crushing force against the new thought, and should train up a body of young men by feeding them upon the utterances of the fathers, of the medieval doctors, and of the apologists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and should keep them in happy ignorance of the reforming spirit of the sixteenth and the scientific spirit of the nineteenth century.
The new college thus founded bore the name of the poet most widely beloved among high churchmen; large endowments flowed in upon it; a showy chapel was erected in accordance throughout with the strictest rules of medieval ecclesiology. As if to strike the keynote of the thought to be fostered in the new institution, one of the most beautiful of pseudo-medieval pictures was given the place of honour in its hall; and the college, lofty and gaudy, loomed high above the neighbouring modest abode of Oxford science. Kuenen might be victorious in Holland, and Wellhausen in Germany, and Robertson Smith in Scotland–even Professors Driver, Sanday, and Cheyne might succeed Dr. Pusey as expounders of the Old Testament at Oxford–but Keble College, rejoicing in the favour of a multitude of leaders in the Church, including Mr. Gladstone, seemed an inexpugnable fortress of the older thought.
But in 1889 appeared the book of essays entitled _Lux Mundi_, among whose leading authors were men closely connected with Keble College and with the movement which had created it. This work gave up entirely the tradition that the narrative in Genesis is a historical record, and admitted that all accounts in the Hebrew Scriptures of events before the time of Abraham are mythical and legendary; it conceded that the books ascribed to Moses and Joshua were made up mainly of three documents representing different periods, and one of them the late period of the exile; that “there is a considerable idealizing element in Old Testament history”; that “the books of Chronicles show an idealizing of history” and “a reading back into past records of a ritual development which is really later,” and that prophecy is not necessarily predictive– “prophetic inspiration being consistent with erroneous anticipations.” Again a shudder went through the upholders of tradition in the Church, and here and there threats were heard; but the _Essays and Reviews_ fiasco and the Colenso catastrophe were still in vivid remembrance. Good sense prevailed: Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, instead of prosecuting the authors, himself asked the famous question, “May not the Holy Spirit make use of myth and legend?” and the Government, not long afterward, promoted one of these authors to a bishopric.
In the sister university the same tendency was seen. Robertson Smith, who had been driven out of his high position in the Free Church of Scotland on account of his work in scriptural research, was welcomed into a professorship at Cambridge, and other men, no less loyal to the new truths, were given places of controlling influence in shaping the thought of the new generation.
Nor did the warfare against biblical science produce any different results among the dissenters of England. In 1862 Samuel Davidson, a professor in the Congregational College at Manchester, published his _Introduction to the Old Testament_. Independently of the contemporary writers of _Essays and Reviews_, he had arrived in a general way at conclusions much like theirs, and he presented the newer view with fearless honesty, admitting that the same research must be applied to these as to other Oriental sacred books, and that such research establishes the fact that all alike contain legendary and mythical elements. A storm was at once aroused; certain denominational papers took up the matter, and Davidson was driven from his professorial chair; but he laboured bravely on, and others followed to take up his work, until the ideas which he had advocated were fully considered.
So, too, in Scotland the work of Robertson Smith was continued even after he had been driven into England; and, as votaries of the older thought passed away, men of ideas akin to his were gradually elected into chairs of biblical criticism and interpretation. Wellhausen’s great work, which Smith had introduced in English form, proved a power both in England and Scotland, and the articles upon various books of Scripture and scriptural subjects generally, in the ninth edition of the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_, having been prepared mainly by himself as editor or put into the hands of others representing the recent critical research, this very important work of reference, which had been in previous editions so timid, was now arrayed on the side of the newer thought, insuring its due consideration wherever the English language is spoken.
In France the same tendency was seen, though with striking variations from the course of events in other countries–variations due to the very different conditions under which biblical students in France were obliged to work. Down to the middle of the nineteenth century the orthodoxy of Bossuet, stiffly opposing the letter of Scripture to every step in the advance of science, had only yielded in a very slight degree. But then came an event ushering in a new epoch. At that time Jules Simon, afterward so eminent as an author, academician, and statesman, was quietly discharging the duties of a professorship, when there was brought him the visiting card of a stranger bearing the name of “Ernest Renan, Student at St. Sulpice.” Admitted to M. Simon’s library, Renan told his story. As a theological student he had devoted himself most earnestly, even before he entered the seminary, to the study of Hebrew and the Semitic languages, and he was now obliged, during the lectures on biblical literature at St. Sulpice, to hear the reverend professor make frequent comments, based on the Vulgate, but absolutely disproved by Renan’s own knowledge of Hebrew. On Renan’s questioning any interpretation of the lecturer, the latter was wont to rejoin: “Monsieur, do you presume to deny the authority of the Vulgate–the translation by St. Jerome, sanctioned by the Holy Ghost and the Church? You will at once go into the chapel and say `Hail Mary’ for an hour before the image of the Blessed Virgin.”
“But,” said Renan to Jules Simon, “this has now become very serious; it happens nearly every day, and, _mon Dieu_! Monsieur, I can not spend _all_ my time in saying, Hail Mary, before the statue of the Virgin.” The result was a warm personal attachment between Simon and Renan; both were Bretons, educated in the midst of the most orthodox influences, and both had unwillingly broken away from them.
Renan was now emancipated, and pursued his studies with such effect that he was made professor at the College de France. His _Life of Jesus_, and other books showing the same spirit, brought a tempest upon him which drove him from his professorship and brought great hardships upon him for many years. But his genius carried the day, and, to the honour of the French Republic, he was restored to the position from which the Empire had driven him. From his pen finally appeared the _Histoire du Peuple Israel_, in which scholarship broad, though at times inaccurate in minor details, was supplemented by an exquisite acuteness and a poetic insight which far more than made good any of those lesser errors which a German student would have avoided. At his death, in October, 1892, this monumental work had been finished. In clearness and beauty of style it has never been approached by any other treatise on this or any kindred subject: it is a work of genius; and its profound insight into all that is of importance in the great subjects which he treated will doubtless cause it to hold a permanent place in the literature not only of the Latin nations but of the world.
An interesting light is thrown over the history of advancing thought at the end of the nineteenth century by the fact that this most detested of heresiarchs was summoned to receive the highest of academic honours at the university which for ages had been regarded as a stronghold of Presbyterian orthodoxy in Great Britain.
In France the anathemas lavished upon him by Church authorities during his life, their denial to him of Christian burial, and their refusal to allow him a grave in the place he most loved, only increased popular affection for him during his last years and deepened the general mourning at his death.
In spite of all resistance, the desire for more light upon the sacred books penetrated the older Church from every side.
In Germany, toward the close of the eighteenth century, Jahn, Catholic professor at Vienna, had ventured, in an _Introduction to Old Testament Study_, to class Job, Jonah, and Tobit below other canonical books, and had only escaped serious difficulties by ample amends in a second edition.
Early in the nineteenth century, Herbst, Catholic professor at Tubingen, had endeavoured in a similar _Introduction_ to bring modern research to bear on the older view; but the Church authorities took care to have all passages really giving any new light skilfully and speedily edited out of the book.
Later still, Movers, professor at Breslau, showed remarkable gifts for Old Testament research, and much was expected of him; but his ecclesiastical superiors quietly prevented his publishing any extended work.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century much the same pressure has continued in Catholic Germany. Strong scholars have very generally been drawn into the position of “apologists” or “reconcilers,” and, when found intractable, they have been driven out of the Church.
The same general policy had been evident in France and Italy, but toward the last decade of the century it was seen by the more clear-sighted supporters of the older Church in those countries that the multifarious “refutations” and explosive attacks upon Renan and his teachings had accomplished nothing; that even special services of atonement for his sin, like the famous “_Triduo_” at Florence, only drew a few women, and provoked ridicule among the public at large; that throwing him out of his professorship and calumniating him had but increased his influence; and that his brilliant intuitions, added to the careful researches of German and English scholars, had brought the thinking world beyond the reach of the old methods of hiding troublesome truths and crushing persistent truth-tellers.
Therefore it was that about 1890 a body of earnest Roman Catholic scholars began very cautiously to examine and explain the biblical text in the light of those results of the newer research which could no longer be gainsaid.
Among these men were, in Italy, Canon Bartolo, Canon Berta, and Father Savi, and in France Monseigneur d’Hulst, the Abb Loisy, professor at the Roman Catholic University at Paris, and, most eminent of all, Professor Lenormant, of the French Institute, whose researches into biblical and other ancient history and literature had won him distinction throughout the world. These men, while standing up manfully for the Church, were obliged to allow that some of the conclusions of modern biblical criticism were well founded. The result came rapidly. The treatise of Bartolo and the great work of Lenormant were placed on the _Index_; Canon Berta was overwhelmed with reproaches and virtually silenced; the Abbe Loisy was first deprived of his professorship, and then ignominiously expelled from the university; Monseigneur d’Hulst was summoned to Rome, and has since kept silence.
The matter was evidently thought serious in the higher regions of the Church, for in November, 1893, appeared an encyclical letter by the reigning Pope, Leo XIII, on _The Study of Sacred Scripture_. Much was expected from it, for, since Benedict XIV in the last century, there had sat on the papal throne no Pope intellectually so competent to discuss the whole subject. While, then, those devoted to the older beliefs trusted that the papal thunderbolts would crush the whole brood of biblical critics, votaries of the newer thought ventured to hope that the encyclical might, in the language of one of them, prove “a stupendous bridge spanning the broad abyss that now divides alleged orthodoxy from established science.”[364b]
Both these expectations were disappointed; and yet, on the whole, it is a question whether the world at large may not congratulate itself upon this papal utterance. The document, if not apostolic, won credit as “statesmanlike.” It took pains, of course, to insist that there can be no error of any sort in the sacred books; it even defended those parts which Protestants count apocryphal as thoroughly as the remainder of Scripture, and declared that the book of Tobit was not compiled of man, but written by God. His Holiness naturally condemned the higher-criticism, but he dwelt at the same time on the necessity of the most thorough study of the sacred Scriptures, and especially on the importance of adjusting scriptural statements to scientific facts. This utterance was admirably oracular, being susceptible of cogent quotation by both sides: nothing could be in better form from an orthodox point of view; but, with that statesmanlike forecast which the present Pope has shown more than once in steering the bark of St. Peter over the troubled waves of the nineteenth century, he so far abstained from condemning any of the greater results of modern critical study that the main English defender of the encyclical, the Jesuit Father Clarke, did not hesitate publicly to admit a multitude of such results–results, indeed, which would shock not only Italian and Spanish Catholics, but many English and American Protestants. According to this interpreter, the Pope had no thought of denying the variety of documents in the Pentateuch, or the plurality of sources of the books of Samuel, or the twofold authorship of Isaiah, or that all after the ninth verse of the last chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel is spurious; and, as regards the whole encyclical, the distinguished Jesuit dwelt significantly on the power of the papacy at any time to define out of existence any previous decisions which may be found inconvenient. More than that, Father Clarke himself, while standing as the champion of the most thorough orthodoxy, acknowledged that, in the Old Testament, “numbers must be expected to be used Orientally,” and that “all these seventies and forties, as, for example, when Absalom is said to have rebelled against David for forty years, can not possibly be meant numerically”; and, what must have given a fearful shock to some Protestant believers in plenary inspiration, he, while advocating it as a dutiful Son of the Church, wove over it an exquisite web with the declaration that “there is a human element in the Bible pre-calculated for by the Divine.”
Considering the difficulties in the case, the world has reason to be grateful to Pope Leo and Father Clarke for these utterances, which perhaps, after all, may prove a better bridge between the old and the new than could have been framed by engineers more learned but less astute. Evidently Pope Leo XIII is neither a Paul V nor an Urban VIII, and is too wise to bring the Church into a position from which it can only be extricated by such ludicrous subterfuges as those by which it was dragged out of the Galileo scandal, or by such a tortuous policy as that by which it writhed out of the old doctrine regarding the taking of interest for money.
In spite, then, of the attempted crushing out of Bartolo and Berta and Savi and Lenormant and Loisy, during this very epoch in which the Pope issued this encyclical, there is every reason to hope that the path has been paved over which the Church may gracefully recede from the old system of interpretation and quietly accept and appropriate the main results of the higher criticism. Certainly she has never had a better opportunity to play at the game of “beggar my neighbour” and to drive the older Protestant orthodoxy into bankruptcy.
In America the same struggle between the old ideas and the new went on. In the middle years of the century the first adequate effort in behalf of the newer conception of the sacred books was made by Theodore Parker at Boston. A thinker brave and of the widest range,–a scholar indefatigable and of the deepest sympathies with humanity,–a man called by one of the most eminent scholars in the English Church “a religious Titan,” and by a distinguished French theologian “a prophet,” he had struggled on from the divinity school until at that time he was one of the foremost biblical scholars, and preacher to the largest regular congregation on the American continent. The great hall in Boston could seat four thousand people, and at his regular discourses every part of it was filled. In addition to his pastoral work he wielded a vast influence as a platform speaker, especially in opposition to the extension of slavery into the Territories of the United States, and as a lecturer on a wide range of vital topics; and among those whom he most profoundly influenced, both politically and religiously, was Abraham Lincoln. During each year at that period he was heard discussing the most important religious and political questions in all the greater Northern cities; but his most lasting work was in throwing light upon our sacred Scriptures, and in this he was one of the forerunners of the movement now going on not only in the United States but throughout Christendom. Even before he was fairly out of college his translation of De Wette’s _Introduction to the Old Testament_ made an impression on many thoughtful men; his sermon in 1841 on _The Transient and Permanent in Christianity_ marked the beginning of his great individual career; his speeches, his lectures, and especially his _Discourse on Matters pertaining to Religion_, greatly extended his influence. His was a deeply devotional nature, and his public Prayers exercised by their touching beauty a very strong religious influence upon his audiences. He had his reward. Beautiful and noble as were his life and his life-work, he was widely abhorred. On one occasion of public worship in one of the more orthodox churches, news having been received that he was dangerously ill, a prayer was openly made by one of the zealous brethren present that this arch-enemy might be removed from earth. He was even driven out from the Unitarian body. But he was none the less steadfast and bold, and the great mass of men and women who thronged his audience room at Boston and his lecture rooms in other cities spread his ideas. His fate was pathetic. Full of faith and hope, but broken prematurely by his labours, he retired to Italy, and died there at the darkest period in the history of the United States–when slavery in the state and the older orthodoxy in the Church seemed absolutely and forever triumphant. The death of Moses within sight of the promised land seems the only parallel to the death of Parker less than six months before the publication of _Essays and Reviews_ and the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, of the United States.
But here it must be noted that Parker’s effort was powerfully aided by the conscientious utterances of some of his foremost opponents. Nothing during the American struggle against the slave system did more to wean religious and God-fearing men and women from the old interpretation of Scripture than the use of it to justify slavery. Typical among examples of this use were the arguments of Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont, a man whose noble character and beautiful culture gave him very wide influence in all branches of the American Protestant Church. While avowing his personal dislike to slavery, he demonstrated that the Bible sanctioned it. Other theologians, Catholic and Protestant, took the same ground; and then came that tremendous rejoinder which echoed from heart to heart throughout the Northern States: “The Bible sanctions slavery? So much the worse for the Bible.” Then was fulfilled that old saying of Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg: “Press not the breasts of Holy Writ too hard, lest they yield blood rather than milk.”
Yet throughout Christendom a change in the mode of interpreting Scripture, though absolutely necessary if its proper authority was to be maintained, still seemed almost hopeless. Even after the foremost scholars had taken ground in favour of it, and the most conservative of those whose opinions were entitled to weight had made concessions showing the old ground to be untenable, there was fanatical opposition to any change. The _Syllabus of Errors_ put forth by Pius IX in 1864, as well as certain other documents issued from the Vatican, had increased the difficulties of this needed transition; and, while the more able-minded Roman Catholic scholars skilfully explained away the obstacles thus created, others published works insisting upon the most extreme views as to the verbal inspiration of the sacred books. In the Church of England various influential men took the same view. Dr. Baylee, Principal of St. Aidan’s College, declared that in Scripture “every scientific statement is infallibly accurate; all its histories and narrations of every kind are without any inaccuracy. Its words and phrases have a grammatical and philological accuracy, such as is possessed by no human composition.” In 1861 Dean Burgon preached in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, as follows: “No, sirs, the Bible is the very utterance of the Eternal: as much God’s own word as if high heaven were open and we heard God speaking to us with human voice. Every book is inspired alike, and is inspired entirely. Inspiration is not a difference of degree, but of kind. The Bible is filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit of God; the books of it and the words of it and the very letters of it.”
In 1865 Canon MacNeile declared in Exeter Hall that “we must either receive the verbal inspiration of the Old Testament or deny the veracity, the insight, the integrity of our Lord Jesus Christ as a teacher of divine truth.”
As late as 1889 one of the two most eloquent pulpit orators in the Church of England, Canon Liddon, preaching at St. Paul’s Cathedral, used in his fervour the same dangerous argument: that the authority of Christ himself, and therefore of Christianity, must rest on the old view of the Old Testament; that, since the founder of Christianity, in divinely recorded utterances, alluded to the transformation of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, to Noah’s ark and the Flood, and to the sojourn of Jonah in the whale, the biblical account of these must be accepted as historical, or that Christianity must be given up altogether.
In the light of what was rapidly becoming known regarding the Chaldean and other sources of the accounts given in Genesis, no argument could be more fraught with peril to the interest which the gifted preacher sought to serve.
In France and Germany many similar utterances in opposition to the newer biblical studies were heard; and from America, especially from the college at Princeton, came resounding echoes. As an example of many may be quoted the statement by the eminent Dr. Hodge that the books of Scripture “are, one and all, in thought and verbal expression, in substance, and in form, wholly the work of God, conveying with absolute accuracy and divine authority all that God meant to convey without human additions and admixtures”; and that “infallibility and authority attach as much to the verbal expression in which the revelation is made as to the matter of the revelation itself.”
But the newer thought moved steadily on. As already in Protestant Europe, so now in the Protestant churches of America, it took strong hold on the foremost minds in many of the churches known as orthodox: Toy, Briggs, Francis Brown, Evans, Preserved Smith, Moore, Haupt, Harper, Peters, and Bacon developed it, and, though most of them were opposed bitterly by synods, councils, and other authorities of their respective churches, they were manfully supported by the more intellectual clergy and laity. The greater universities of the country ranged themselves on the side of these men; persecution but intrenched them more firmly in the hearts of all intelligent well-wishers of Christianity. The triumphs won by their opponents in assemblies, synods, conventions, and conferences were really victories for the nominally defeated, since they revealed to the world the fact that in each of these bodies the strong and fruitful thought of the Church, the thought which alone can have any hold on the future, was with the new race of thinkers; no theological triumphs more surely fatal to the victors have been won since the Vatican defeated Copernicus and Galileo.
And here reference must be made to a series of events which, in the second half of the nineteenth century, have contributed most powerful aid to the new school of biblical research.
While this struggle for the new truth was going on in various fields, aid appeared from a quarter whence it was least expected. The great discoveries by Botta and Layard in Assyria were supplemented by the researches of Rawlinson, George Smith, Oppert, Sayce, Sarzec, Pinches, and others, and thus it was revealed more clearly than ever before that as far back as the time assigned in Genesis to the creation a great civilization was flourishing in Mesopotamia; that long ages, probably two thousand years, before the scriptural date assigned to the migration of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, this Chaldean civilization had bloomed forth in art, science, and literature; that the ancient inscriptions recovered from the sites of this and kindred civilizations presented the Hebrew sacred myths and legends in earlier forms–forms long antedating those given in the Hebrew Scriptures; and that the accounts of the Creation, the Tree of Life in Eden, the institution and even the name of the Sabbath, the Deluge, the Tower of Babel, and much else in the Pentateuch, were simply an evolution out of earlier Chaldean myths and legends. So perfect was the proof of this that the most eminent scholars in the foremost seats of Christian learning were obliged to acknowledge it.
The more general conclusions which were thus given to biblical criticism were all the more impressive from the fact that they had been revealed by various groups of earnest Christian scholars working on different lines, by different methods, and in various parts of the world. Very honourable was the full and frank testimony to these results given in 1885 by the Rev. Francis Brown, a professor in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at New York. In his admirable though brief book on Assyriology, starting with the declaration that “it is a great pity to be afraid of facts,” he showed how Assyrian research testifies in many ways to the historical value of the Bible record; but at the same time he freely allowed to Chaldean history an antiquity fatal to the sacred chronology of the Hebrews. He also cast aside a mass of doubtful apologetics, and dealt frankly with the fact that very many of the early narratives in Genesis belong to the common stock of ancient tradition, and, mentioning as an example the cuneiform inscriptions which record a story of the Accadian king Sargon–how “he was born in retirement, placed by his mother in a basket of rushes, launched on a river, rescued and brought up by a stranger, after which he became king”–he did not hesitate to remind his readers that Sargon lived a thousand years and more before Moses; that this story was told of him several hundred years before Moses was born; and that it was told of various other important personages of antiquity. The professor dealt just as honestly with the inscriptions which show sundry statements in the book of Daniel to be unhistorical; candidly making admissions which but a short time before would have filled orthodoxy with horror.
A few years later came another testimony even more striking. Early in the last decade of the nineteenth century it was noised abroad that the Rev. Professor Sayce, of Oxford, the most eminent Assyriologist and Egyptologist of Great Britain, was about to publish a work in which what is known as the “higher criticism” was to be vigorously and probably destructively dealt with in the light afforded by recent research among the monuments of Assyria and Egypt. The book was looked for with eager expectation by the supporters of the traditional view of Scripture; but, when it appeared, the exultation of the traditionalists was speedily changed to dismay. For Prof. Sayce, while showing some severity toward sundry minor assumptions and assertions of biblical critics, confirmed all their more important conclusions which properly fell within his province. While his readers soon realized that these assumptions and assertions of overzealous critics no more disproved the main results of biblical criticism than the wild guesses of Kepler disproved the theory of Copernicus, or the discoveries of Galileo, or even the great laws which bear Kepler’s own name, they found new mines sprung under some of the most lofty fortresses of the old dogmatic theology. A few of the statements of this champion of orthodoxy may be noted. He allowed that the week of seven days and the Sabbath rest are of Babylonian origin; indeed, that the very word “Sabbath” is Babylonian; that there are two narratives of Creation on the Babylonian tablets, wonderfully like the two leading Hebrew narratives in Genesis, and that the latter were undoubtedly drawn from the former; that the “garden of Eden” and its mystical tree were known to the inhabitants of Chaldea in pre-Semitic days; that the beliefs that woman was created out of man, and that man by sin fell from a state of innocence, are drawn from very ancient Chaldean-Babylonian texts; that Assyriology confirms the belief that the book Genesis is a compilation; that portions of it are by no means so old as the time of Moses; that the expression in our sacred book, “The Lord smelled a sweet savour” at the sacrifice made by Noah, is “identical with that of the Babylonian poet”; that “it is impossible to believe that the language of the latter was not known to the biblical writer” and that the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife was drawn in part from the old Egyptian tale of _The Two Brothers_. Finally, after a multitude of other concessions, Prof. Sayce allowed that the book of Jonah, so far from being the work of the prophet himself, can not have been written until the Assyrian Empire was a thing of the past; that the book of Daniel contains serious mistakes; that the so-called historical chapters of that book so conflict with the monuments that the author can not have been a contemporary of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus; that “the story of Belshazzar’s fall is not historical”; that the Belshazzar referred to in it as king, and as the son of Nehuchadnezzar, was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and was never king; that “King Darius the Mede,” who plays so great a part in the story, never existed; that the book associates persons and events really many years apart, and that it must have been written at a period far later than the time assigned in it for its own origin.
As to the book of Ezra, he tells us that we are confronted by a chronological inconsistency which no amount of ingenuity can explain away. He also acknowledges that the book of Esther “contains many exaggerations and improbabilities, and is simply founded upon one of those same historical tales of which the Persian chronicles seem to have been full.” Great was the dissatisfaction of the traditionalists with their expected champion; well might they repeat the words of Balak to Balaam, “I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them.”
No less fruitful have been modern researches in Egypt. While, on one hand, they have revealed a very considerable number of geographical and archaeological facts proving the good faith of the narratives entering into the books attributed to Moses, and have thus made our early sacred literature all the more valuable, they have at the same time revealed the limitations of the sacred authors and compilers. They have brought to light facts utterly disproving the sacred Hebrew date of creation and the main framework of the early biblical chronology; they have shown the suggestive correspondence between the ten antediluvian patriarchs in Genesis and the ten early dynasties of the Egyptian gods, and have placed by the side of these the ten antediluvian kings of Chaldean tradition, the ten heroes of Armenia, the ten primeval kings of Persian sacred tradition, the ten “fathers” of Hindu sacred tradition, and multitudes of other tens, throwing much light on the manner in which the sacred chronicles of ancient nations were generally developed.
These scholars have also found that the legends of the plagues of Egypt are in the main but natural exaggerations of what occurs every year; as, for example, the changing of the water of the Nile into blood–evidently suggested by the phenomena exhibited every summer, when, as various eminent scholars, and, most recent of all, Maspero and Sayce, tell us, “about the middle of July, in eight or ten days the river turns from grayish blue to dark red, occasionally of so intense a colour as to look like newly shed blood.” These modern researches have also shown that some of the most important features in the legends can not possibly be reconciled with the records of the monuments; for example, that the Pharaoh of the Exodus was certainly not overwhelmed in the Red Sea. As to the supernatural features of the Hebrew relations with Egypt, even the most devoted apologists have become discreetly silent.
Egyptologists have also translated for us the old Nile story of _The Two Brothers_, and have shown, as we have already seen, that one of the most striking parts of our sacred Joseph legend was drawn from it; they have been obliged to admit that the story of the exposure of Moses in the basket of rushes, his rescue, and his subsequent greatness, had been previously told, long before Moses’s time, not only of King Sargon, but of various other great personages of the ancient world; they have published plans of Egyptian temples and copies of the sculptures upon their walls, revealing the earlier origin of some of the most striking features of the worship and ceremonial claimed to have been revealed especially to the Hebrews; they have found in the _Egyptian Book of the Dead_, and in various inscriptions of the Nile temples and tombs, earlier sources of much in the ethics so long claimed to have been revealed only to the chosen people in the Book of the Covenant, in the ten commandments, and elsewhere; they have given to the world copies of the Egyptian texts showing that the theology of the Nile was one of various fruitful sources of later ideas, statements, and practices regarding the brazen serpent, the golden calf, trinities, miraculous conceptions, incarnations, resurrections, ascensions, and the like, and that Egyptian sacro-scientific ideas contributed to early Jewish and Christian sacred literature statements, beliefs, and even phrases regarding the Creation, astronomy, geography, magic, medicine, diabolical influences, with a multitude of other ideas, which we also find coming into early Judaism in greater or less degree from Chaldean and Persian sources.
But Egyptology, while thus aiding to sweep away the former conception of our sacred books, has aided biblical criticism in making them far more precious; for it has shown them to be a part of that living growth of sacred literature whose roots are in all the great civilizations of the past, and through whose trunk and branches are flowing the currents which are to infuse a higher religious and ethical life into the civilizations of the future.
But while archaeologists thus influenced enlightened opinion, another body of scholars rendered services of a different sort–the centre of their enterprise being the University of Oxford. By their efforts was presented to the English-speaking world a series of translations of the sacred books of the East, which showed the relations of the more Eastern sacred literature to our own, and proved that in the religions of the world the ideas which have come as the greatest blessings to mankind are not of sudden revelation or creation, but of slow evolution out of a remote past.
The facts thus shown did not at first elicit much gratitude from supporters of traditional theology, and perhaps few things brought more obloquy on Renan, for a time, than his statement that “the influence of Persia is the most powerful to which Israel was submitted.” Whether this was an overstatement or not, it was soon seen to contain much truth. Not only was it made clear by study of the Zend Avesta that the Old and New Testament ideas regarding Satanic and demoniacal modes of action were largely due to Persian sources, but it was also shown that the idea of immortality was mainly developed in the Hebrew mind during the close relations of the Jews with the Persians. Nor was this all. In the Zend Avesta were found in earlier form sundry myths and legends which, judging from their frequent appearance in early religions, grow naturally about the history of the adored teachers of our race. Typical among these was the Temptation of Zoroaster.
It is a fact very significant and full of promise that the first large, frank, and explicit revelation regarding this whole subject in form available for the general thinking public was given to the English-speaking world by an eminent Christian divine and scholar, the Rev. Dr. Mills. Having already shown himself by his translations a most competent authority on the subject, he in 1894 called attention, in a review widely read, to “the now undoubted and long since suspected fact that it pleased the Divine Power to reveal some of the important articles of our Catholic creed first to the Zoroastrians, and through their literature to the Jews and ourselves.” Among these beliefs Dr. Mills traced out very conclusively many Jewish doctrines regarding the attributes of God, and all, virtually, regarding the attributes of Satan. There, too, he found accounts of the Miraculous Conception, Virgin Birth, and Temptation of Zoroaster, As to the last, Dr. Mills presented a series of striking coincidences with our own later account. As to its main features, he showed that there had been developed among the Persians, many centuries before the Christian era, the legend of a vain effort of the arch-demon, one seat of whose power was the summit of Mount Arezura, to tempt Zoroaster to worship him,–of an argument between tempter and tempted,–and of Zoroaster’s refusal; and the doctor continued: “No Persian subject in the streets of Jerusalem, soon after or long after the Return, could have failed to know this striking myth.” Dr. Mills then went on to show that, among the Jews, “the doctrine of immortality was scarcely mooted before the later Isaiah–that is, before the captivity–while the Zoroastrian scriptures are one mass of spiritualism, referring all results to the heavenly or to the infernal worlds.” He concludes by saying that, as regards the Old and New Testaments, “the humble, and to a certain extent prior, religion of the Mazda worshippers was useful in giving point and beauty to many loose conceptions among the Jewish religious teachers, and in introducing many ideas which were entirely new, while as to the doctrines of immortality and resurrection–the most important of all–it positively determined belief.”
Even more extensive were the revelations made by scientific criticism applied to the sacred literature of southern and eastern Asia. The resemblances of sundry fundamental narratives and ideas in our own sacred books with those of Buddhism were especially suggestive.
Here, too, had been a long preparatory history. The discoveries in Sanscrit philology made in the latter half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, by Sir William Jones, Carey, Wilkins, Foster, Colebrooke, and others, had met at first with some opposition from theologians. The declaration by Dugald Stewart that the discovery of Sanscrit was fraudulent, and its vocabulary and grammar patched together out of Greek and Latin, showed the feeling of the older race of biblical students. But researches went on. Bopp, Burnouf, Lassen, Weber, Whitney, Max Muller, and others continued the work during the nineteenth century more and more evident became the sources from which many ideas and narratives in our own sacred books had been developed. Studies in the sacred books of Brahmanism, and in the institutions of Buddhism, the most widespread of all religions, its devotees outnumbering those of all branches of the Christian Church together, proved especially fruitful in facts relating to general sacred literature and early European religious ideas.
Noteworthy in the progress of this knowledge was the work of Fathers Huc and Gabet. In 1839 the former of these, a French Lazarist priest, set out on a mission to China. Having prepared himself at Macao by eighteen months of hard study, and having arrayed himself like a native, even to the wearing of the queue and the staining of his skin, he visited Peking and penetrated Mongolia. Five years later, taking Gabet with him, both disguised as Lamas, he began his long and toilsome journey to the chief seats of Buddhism in Thibet, and, after two years of fearful dangers and sufferings, accomplished it. Driven out finally by the Chinese, Huc returned to Europe in 1852, having made one of the most heroic, self-denying, and, as it turned out, one of the most valuable efforts in all the noble annals of Christian missions. His accounts of these journevs, written in a style simple, clear, and interesting, at once attracted attention throughout the world. But far more important than any services he had rendered to the Church he served was the influence of his book upon the general opinions of thinking men; for he completed a series of revelations made by earlier, less gifted, and less devoted travellers, and brought to the notice of the world the amazing similarity of the ideas, institutions, observances, ceremonies, and ritual, and even the ecclesiastical costumes of the Buddhists to those of his own Church.
Buddhism was thus shown with its hierarchy, in which the Grand Lama, an infallible representative of the Most High, is surrounded by its minor Lamas, much like cardinals; with its bishops wearing mitres, its celibate priests with shaven crown, cope, dalmatic, and censer; its cathedrals with clergy gathered in the choir; its vast monasteries filled with monks and nuns vowed to poverty, chastity, and obedience; its church arrangements, with shrines of saints and angels; its use of images, pictures, and illuminated missals; its service, with a striking general resemblance to the Mass; antiphonal choirs; intoning of prayers; recital of creeds; repetition of litanies; processions; mystic rites and incense; the offering and adoration of bread upon an altar lighted by candles; the drinking from a chalice by the priest; prayers and offerings for the dead; benediction with outstretched hands; fasts, confessions, and doctrine of purgatory–all this and more was now clearly revealed. The good father was evidently staggered by these amazing facts; but his robust faith soon gave him an explanation: he suggested that Satan, in anticipation of Christianity, had revealed to Buddhism this divinely constituted order of things. This naive explanation did not commend itself to his superiors in the Roman Church. In the days of St. Augustine or of St. Thomas Aquinas it would doubtless have been received much more kindly; but in the days of Cardinal Antonelli this was hardly to be expected: the Roman authorities, seeing the danger of such plain revelations in the nineteenth century, even when coupled with such devout explanations, put the book under the ban, though not before it had been spread throughout the world in various translations. Father Huc was sent on no more missions.
Yet there came even more significant discoveries, especially bearing upon the claims of that great branch of the Church which supposes itself to possess a divine safeguard against error in belief. For now was brought to light by literary research the irrefragable evidence that the great Buddha–Sakya Muni himself–had been canonized and enrolled among the Christian saints whose intercession may be invoked, and in whose honour images, altars, and chapels may be erected; and this, not only by the usage of the medieval Church, Greek and Roman, but by the special and infallible sanction of a long series of popes, from the end of the sixteenth century to the end of the nineteenth–a sanction granted under one of the most curious errors in human history. The story enables us to understand the way in which many of the beliefs of Christendom have been developed, especially how they have been influenced from the seats of older religions; and it throws much light into the character and exercise of papal infallibility.
Early in the seventh century there was composed, as is now believed, at the Convent of St. Saba near Jerusalem, a pious romance entitled _Barlaam and Josaphat_–the latter personage, the hero of the story, being represented as a Hindu prince converted to Christianity by the former.
This story, having been attributed to St. John of Damascus in the following century became amazingly popular, and was soon accepted as true: it was translated from the Greek original not only into Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Ethiopic, but into every important European language, including even Polish, Bohemian, and Icelandic. Thence it came into the pious historical encyclopaedia of Vincent of Beauvais, and, most important of all, into the _Lives of the Saints_.
Hence the name of its pious hero found its way into the list of saints whose intercession is to be prayed for, and it passed without challenge until about 1590, when, the general subject of canonization having been brought up at Rome, Pope Sixtus V, by virtue of his infallibility and immunity against error in everything relating to faith and morals, sanctioned a revised list of saints, authorizing and directing it to be accepted by the Church; and among those on whom he thus forever infallibly set the seal of Heaven was included “_The Holy Saint Josaphat of India_, whose wonderful acts St. John of Damascus has related.” The 27th of November was appointed as the day set apart in honour of this saint, and the decree, having been enforced by successive popes for over two hundred and fifty years, was again officially approved by Pius IX in 1873. This decree was duly accepted as infallible, and in one of the largest cities of Italy may to-day be seen a Christian church dedicated to this saint. On its front are the initials of his Italianized name; over its main entrance is the inscription “_Divo Josafat_”; and within it is an altar dedicated to the saint–above this being a pedestal bearing his name and supporting a large statue which represents him as a youthful prince wearing a crown and contemplating a crucifix.
Moreover, relics of this saint were found; bones alleged to be parts of his skeleton, having been presented by a Doge of Venice to a King of Portugal, are now treasured at Antwerp.
But even as early as the sixteenth century a pregnant fact regarding this whole legend was noted: for the Portuguese historian Diego Conto showed that it was identical with the legend of Buddha. Fortunately for the historian, his faith was so robust that he saw in this resemblance only a trick of Satan; the life of Buddha being, in his opinion, merely a diabolic counterfeit of the life of Josaphat centuries before the latter was lived or written–just as good Abbe Huc saw in the ceremonies of Buddhism a similar anticipatory counterfeit of Christian ritual.
There the whole matter virtually rested for about three hundred years–various scholars calling attention to the legend as a curiosity, but none really showing its true bearings–until, in 1859, Laboulaye in France, Liebrecht in Germany, and others following them, demonstrated that this Christian work was drawn almost literally from an early biography of Buddha, being conformed to it in the most minute details, not only of events but of phraseology; the only important changes being that, at the end of the various experiences showing the wretchedness of the world, identical with those ascribed in the original to the young Prince Buddha, the hero, instead of becoming a hermit, becomes a Christian, and that for the appellation of Buddha– “Bodisat”–is substituted the more scriptural name Josaphat.
Thus it was that, by virtue of the infallibility vouchsafed to the papacy in matters of faith and morals, Buddha became a Christian saint.
Yet these were by no means the most pregnant revelations. As the Buddhist scriptures were more fully examined, there were disclosed interesting anticipations of statements in later sacred books. The miraculous conception of Buddha and his virgin birth, like that of Horus in Egypt and of Krishna in India; the previous annunciation to his mother Maja; his birth during a journey by her; the star appearing in the east, and the angels chanting in the heavens at his birth; his temptation–all these and a multitude of other statements were full of suggestions to larger thought regarding the development of sacred literature in general. Even the eminent Roman Catholic missionary Bishop Bigandet was obliged to confess, in his scholarly life of Buddha, these striking similarities between the Buddhist scriptures and those which it was his mission to expound, though by this honest statement his own further promotion was rendered impossible. Fausboll also found the story of the judgment of Solomon imbedded in Buddhist folklore; and Sir Edwin Arnold, by his poem, _The Light of Asia_, spread far and wide a knowledge of the anticipation in Buddhism of some ideas which down to a recent period were considered distinctively Christian. Imperfect as the revelations thus made of an evolution of religious beliefs, institutions, and literature still are, they have not been without an important bearing upon the newer conception of our own sacred books: more and more manifest has become the interdependence of all human development; more and more clear the truth that Christianity, as a great fact in man’s history, is not dependent for its life upon any parasitic growths of myth and legend, no matter how beautiful they may be.
No less important was the closer research into the New Testament during the latter part of the nineteenth century. To go into the subject in detail would be beyond the scope of this work, but a few of the main truths which it brought before the world may be here summarized.
By the new race of Christian scholars it has been clearly shown that the first three Gospels, which, down to the close of the last century, were so constantly declared to be three independent testimonies agreeing as to the events recorded, are neither independent of each other nor in that sort of agreement which was formerly asserted. All biblical scholars of any standing, even the most conservative, have come to admit that all three took their rise in the same original sources, growing by the accretions sure to come as time went on–accretions sometimes useful and often beautiful, but in no inconsiderable degree ideas and even narratives inherited from older religions: it is also fully acknowledged that to this growth process are due certain contradictions which can not otherwise be explained. As to the fourth Gospel, exquisitely beautiful as large portions of it are, there has been growing steadily and irresistibly the conviction, even among the most devout scholars, that it has no right to the name, and does not really give the ideas of St. John, but that it represents a mixture of Greek philosophy with Jewish theology, and that its final form, which one of the most eminent among recent Christian scholars has characterized as “an unhistorical product of abstract reflection,” is mainly due to some gifted representative or representatives of the Alexandrian school. Bitter as the resistance to this view has been, it has during the last years of the nineteenth century won its way more and more to acknowledgment. A careful examination made in 1893 by a competent Christian scholar showed facts which are best given in his own words, as follows: “In the period of thirty years ending in 1860, of the fifty great authorities in this line, _four to one_ were in favour of the Johannine authorship. Of those who in that period had advocated this traditional position, one quarter–and certainly the very greatest–finally changed their position to the side of a late date and non-Johannine authorship. Of those who have come into this field of scholarship since about 1860, some forty men of the first class, two thirds reject the traditional theory wholly or very largely. Of those who have contributed important articles to the discussion from about 1880 to 1890, about _two to one_ reject the Johannine authorship of the Gospel in its present shape–that is to say, while forty years ago great scholars were _four to one in favour of_, they are now _two to one against_, the claim that the apostle John wrote this Gospel as we have it. Again, one half of those on the conservative side to-day–scholars like Weiss, Beyschlag, Sanday, and Reynolds–admit the existence of a dogmatic intent and an ideal element in this Gospel, so that we do not have Jesus’s thought in his exact words, but only in substance.”
In 1881 came an event of great importance as regards the development of a more frank and open dealing with scriptural criticism. In that year appeared the Revised Version of the New Testament. It was exceedingly cautious and conservative; but it had the vast merit of being absolutely conscientious. One thing showed, in a striking way, ethical progress in theological methods. Although all but one of the English revisers represented Trinitarian bodies, they rejected the two great proof texts which had so long been accounted essential bulwarks of Trinitarian doctrine. Thus disappeared at last from the Epistle of St. John the text of the Three Witnesses, which had for centuries held its place in spite of its absence from all the earlier important manuscripts, and of its rejection in later times by Erasmus, Luther, Isaac Newton, Porson, and a long line of the greatest biblical scholars. And with this was thrown out the other like unto it in spurious origin and zealous intent, that interpolation of the word “God” in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the First Epistle to Timothy, which had for ages served as a warrant for condemning some of the noblest of Christians, even such men as Newton and Milton and Locke and Priestley and Channing.
Indeed, so honest were the revisers that they substituted the correct reading of Luke ii, 33, in place of the time-honoured corruption in the King James version which had been thought necessary to safeguard the dogma of the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus came the true reading, “His _father_ and his mother” instead of the old piously fraudulent words “_Joseph_ and his mother.”
An even more important service to the new and better growth of Christianity was the virtual setting aside of the last twelve verses of the Gospel according to St. Mark; for among these stood that sentence which has cost the world more innocent blood than any other–the words “He that believeth not shall be damned.” From this source had logically grown the idea that the intellectual rejection of this or that dogma which dominant theology had happened at any given time to pronounce essential, since such rejection must bring punishment infinite in agony and duration, is a crime to be prevented at any cost of finite cruelty. Still another service rendered to humanity by the revisers was in substituting a new and correct rendering for the old reading of the famous text regarding the inspiration of Scripture, which had for ages done so much to make our sacred books a fetich. By this more correct reading the revisers gave a new charter to liberty in biblical research.
Most valuable, too, have been studies during the latter part of the nineteenth century upon the formation of the canon of Scripture. The result of these has been to substitute something far better for that conception of our biblical literature, as forming one book handed out of the clouds by the Almighty, which had been so long practically the accepted view among probably the majority of Christians. Reverent scholars have demonstrated our sacred literature to be a growth in obedience to simple laws natural and historical; they have shown how some books of the Old Testament were accepted as sacred, centuries before our era, and how others gradually gained sanctity, in some cases only fully acquiring it long after the establishment of the Christian Church. The same slow growth has also been shown in the New Testament canon. It has been demonstrated that the selection of the books composing it, and their separation from the vast mass of spurious gospels, epistles, and apocalytic literature was a gradual process, and, indeed, that the rejection of some books and the acceptance of others was accidental, if anything is accidental.
So, too, scientific biblical research has, as we have seen, been obliged to admit the existence of much mythical and legendary matter, as a setting for the great truths not only of the Old Testament but of the New. It has also shown, by the comparative study of literatures, the process by which some books were compiled and recompiled, adorned with beautiful utterances, strengthened or weakened by alterations and interpolations expressing the views of the possessors or transcribers, and attributed to personages who could not possibly have written them. The presentation of these things has greatly weakened that sway of mere dogma which has so obscured the simple teachings of Christ himself; for it has shown that the more we know of our sacred books, the less certain we become as to the authenticity of “proof texts,” and it has disengaged more and more, as the only valuable residuum, like the mass of gold at the bottom of the crucible, the personality, spirit, teaching, and ideals of the blessed Founder of Christianity. More and more, too, the new scholarship has developed the conception of the New Testament as, like the Old, the growth of literature in obedience to law–a conception which in all probability will give it its strongest hold on the coming centuries. In making this revelation Christian scholarship has by no means done work mainly destructive. It has, indeed, swept away a mass of noxious growths, but it has at the same time cleared the ground for a better growth of Christianity–a growth through which already pulsates the current of a nobler life. It has forever destroyed the contention of scholars like those of the eighteenth century who saw, in the multitude of irreconcilable discrepancies between various biblical statements, merely evidences of priestcraft and intentional fraud. The new scholarship has shown that even such absolute contradictions as those between the accounts of the early life of Jesus by Matthew and Luke, and between the date of the crucifixion and details of the resurrection in the first three Gospels and in the fourth, and other discrepancies hardly less serious, do not destroy the historical character of the narrative. Even the hopelessly conflicting genealogies of the Saviour and the evidently mythical accretions about the simple facts of his birth and life are thus full of interest when taken as a natural literary development in obedience to the deepest religious feeling.
Among those who have wrought most effectively to bring the leaders of thought in the English-speaking nations to this higher conception, Matthew Arnold should not be forgotten. By poetic insight, broad scholarship, pungent statement, pithy argument, and an exquisitely lucid style, he aided effectually during the latter half of the nineteenth century in bringing the work of specialists to bear upon the development of a broader and deeper view. In the light of his genius a conception of our sacred books at the same time more literary as well as more scientific has grown widely and vigorously, while the older view which made of them a fetich and a support for unchristian dogmas has been more and more thrown into the background. The contributions to these results by the most eminent professors at the great Christian universities of the English-speaking world, Oxford and Cambridge taking the lead, are most hopeful signs of a new epoch. Very significant also is a change in the style of argument against the scientific view. Leading supporters of the older opinions see more and more clearly the worthlessness of rhetoric against ascertained fact: mere dogged resistance to cogent argument evidently avails less and less; and the readiness of the more prominent representatives of the older thought to consider opposing arguments, and to acknowledge any force they may have, is certainly of good omen. The concessions made in _Lux Mundi_ regarding scriptural myths and legends have been already mentioned.
Significant also has been the increasing reprobation in the Church itself of the profound though doubtless unwitting immoralities of _reconcilers_. The castigation which followed the exploits of the greatest of these in our own time–Mr. Gladstone, at the hands of Prof. Huxley–did much to complete a work in which such eminent churchmen as Stanley, Farrar, Sanday, Cheyne, Driver, and Sayce had rendered good service.
Typical among these evidences of a better spirit in controversy has been the treatment of the question regarding mistaken quotations from the Old Testament in the New, and especially regarding quotations by Christ himself. For a time this was apparently the most difficult of all matters dividing the two forces; but though here and there appear champions of tradition, like the Bishop of Gloucester, effectual resistance to the new view has virtually ceased; in one way or another the most conservative authorities have accepted the undoubted truth revealed by a simple scientific method. Their arguments have indeed been varied. While some have fallen back upon Le Clerc’s contention that “Christ did not come to teach criticism to the Jews,” and others upon Paley’s argument that the Master shaped his statements in accordance with the ideas of his time, others have taken refuge in scholastic statements–among them that of Irenaeus regarding “a quiescence of the divine word,” or the somewhat startling explanation by sundry recent theologians that “our Lord emptied himself of his Godhead.”
Nor should there be omitted a tribute to the increasing courtesy shown in late years by leading supporters of the older view. During the last two decades of the present century there has been a most happy departure from the older method of resistance, first by plausibilities, next by epithets, and finally by persecution. To the bitterness of the attacks upon Darwin, the Essayists and Reviewers, and Bishop Colenso, have succeeded, among really eminent leaders, a far better method and tone. While Matthew Arnold no doubt did much in commending “sweet reasonableness” to theological controversialists, Mr. Gladstone, by his perfect courtesy to his opponents, even when smarting under their heaviest blows, has set a most valuable example. Nor should the spirit shown by Bishop Ellicott, leading a forlorn hope for the traditional view, pass without a tribute of respect. Truly pathetic is it to see this venerable and learned prelate, one of the most eminent representatives of the older biblical research, even when giving solemn warnings against the newer criticisms, and under all the temptations of _ex cathedra_ utterance, remaining mild and gentle and just in the treatment of adversaries whose ideas he evidently abhors. Happily, he is comforted by the faith that Christianitv will survive; and this faith his opponents fully share.
For all this dissolving away of traditional opinions regarding our sacred literature, there has been a cause far more general and powerful than any which has been given, for it is a cause surrounding and permeating all. This is simply the atmosphere of thought engendered by the development of all sciences during the last three centuries.
Vast masses of myth, legend, marvel, and dogmatic assertion, coming into this atmosphere, have been dissolved and are now dissolving quietly away like icebergs drifted into the Gulf Stream. In earlier days, when some critic in advance of his time insisted that Moses could not have written an account embracing the circumstances of his own death, it was sufficient to answer that Moses was a prophet; if attention was called to the fact that the great early prophets, by all which they did and did not do, showed that there could not have existed in their time any “Levitical code,” a sufficient answer was “mystery”; and if the discrepancy was noted between the two accounts of creation in Genesis, or between the genealogies or the dates of the crucifixion in the Gospels, the cogent reply was “infidelity.” But the thinking world has at last been borne by the general development of a scientific atmosphere beyond that kind of refutation.
If, in the atmosphere generated by the earlier developed sciences, the older growths of biblical interpretation have drooped and withered and are evidently perishing, new and better growths have arisen with roots running down into the newer sciences. Comparative Anthropology in general, by showing that various early stages of belief and observance, once supposed to be derived from direct revelation from heaven to the Hebrews, are still found as arrested developments among various savage and barbarous tribes; Comparative Mythology and Folklore, by showing that ideas and beliefs regarding the Supreme Power in the universe are progressive, and not less in Judea than in other parts of the world; Comparative Religion and Literature, by searching out and laying side by side those main facts in the upward struggle of humanity which show that the Israelites, like other gifted peoples, rose gradually, through ghost worship, fetichism, and polytheism, to higher theological levels; and that, as they thus rose, their conceptions and statements regarding the God they worshipped became nobler and better–all these sciences are giving a new solution to those problems which dogmatic theology has so long laboured in vain to solve. While researches in these sciences have established the fact that accounts formerly supposed to be special revelations to Jews and Christians are but repetitions of widespread legends dating from far earlier civilizations, and that beliefs formerly thought fundamental to Judaism and Christianity are simply based on ancient myths, they have also begun to impress upon the intellect and conscience of the thinking world the fact that the religious and moral truths thus disengaged from the old masses of myth and legend are all the more venerable and authoritative, and that all individual or national life of any value must be vitalized by them.
If, then, modern science in general has acted powerfully to dissolve away the theories and dogmas of the older theologic interpretation, it has also been active in a reconstruction and recrystallization of truth; and very powerful in this reconstruction have been the evolution doctrines which have grown out of the thought and work of men like Darwin and Spencer.
In the light thus obtained the sacred text has been transformed: out of the old chaos has come order; out of the old welter of hopelessly conflicting statements in religion and morals has come, in obedience to this new conception of development, the idea of a sacred literature which mirrors the most striking evolution of morals and religion in the history of our race. Of all the sacred writings of the world, it shows us our own as the most beautiful and the most precious; exhibiting to us the most complete religious development to which humanity has attained, and holding before us the loftiest ideals which our race has known. Thus it is that, with the keys furnished by this new race of biblical scholars, the way has been opened to treasures of thought which have been inaccessible to theologians for two thousand years.
As to the Divine Power in the universe: these interpreter’s have shown how, beginning with the tribal god of the Hebrews–one among many jealous, fitful, unseen, local sovereigns of Asia Minor–the higher races have been borne on to the idea of the just Ruler of the whole earth, as revealed by the later and greater prophets of Israel, and finally to the belief in the Universal Father, as best revealed in the New Testament. As to man: beginning with men after Jehovah’s own heart–cruel, treacherous, revengeful–we are borne on to an ideal of men who do right for right’s sake; who search and speak the truth for truth’s sake; who love others as themselves. As to the world at large: the races dominant in religion and morals have been lifted from the idea of a “chosen people” stimulated and abetted by their tribal god in every sort of cruelty and injustice, to the conception of a vast community in which the fatherhood of God overarches all, and the brotherhood of man permeates all.
Thus, at last, out of the old conception of our Bible as a collection of oracles–a mass of entangling utterances, fruitful in wrangling interpretations, which have given to the world long and weary ages of “hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness”; of fetichism, subtlety, and pomp; of tyranny bloodshed, and solemnly constituted imposture; of everything which the Lord Jesus Christ most abhorred–has been gradually developed through the centuries, by the labours, sacrifices, and even the martyrdom of a long succession of men of God, the conception of it as a sacred literature–a growth only possible under that divine light which the various orbs of science have done so much to bring into the mind and heart and soul of man–a revelation, not of the Fall of Man, but of the Ascent of Man–an exposition, not of temporary dogmas and observances, but of the Eternal Law of Righteousness–the one upward path for individuals and for nations. No longer an oracle, good for the “lower orders” to accept, but to be quietly sneered at by “the enlightened”–no longer a fetich, whose defenders must be persecuters, or reconcilers, or “apologists”; but a most fruitful fact, which religion and science may accept as a source of strength to both. [End.]