« VorigeDoorgaan »
No. I.-MARCH, 1864.
AMONG the most noteworthy characteristics of English society at the present moment, is a singular revival of interest in those theological inquiries which in quieter times the mass of men are content to leave to studious and painful divines. The interest is not purely intellectual, but has a practical side also: men, whose minds are commonly urged by little speculative ardour, are conscious of a vague insecurity in the foundations of the faith which is their stay in life and death, and will not be satisfied till they have looked into the matter with their own eyes. Yet, though the present commotion in the region of theological thought springs in part from moral sources and owns moral restraints, it must not be regarded as a parallel phenomenon to any of those great awakenings of religious life, of which the birth of Methodism in the last century is a familiar example. For in these, the moral and spiritual is also the preponderating element, asking from the intellect, in order to produce its own fullest results, little more than a certain receptive activity. The question is not of new beliefs, but of a fresh power poured into the old; not of the firmer base on which the ancient faith can be seated, but of the new life with which it can be made to move and glow. What quickening of the intellect is needed, is implied, not in the careful marshalling of evidence, the cautious process of logical deduction, but in the sudden inspiration which, shewing familiar truths in a new light, reveals them as undeniably true and unspeakably solemn. On the contrary, the present movement comes from the side of the intellect, and, though with enough of the moral element to keep it honest and reverent,
is a stirring not of life but of thought. The questions which are most persistently and most eagerly asked are outside the common controversial theology, and imperil the fundamental assumptions of the Church. Not what is the meaning, but what is the authority, of Scripture? no longer the method of the Divine government, but is there any Divine government of men and the world at all? not the exact place of miracles in Christian evidence, but can the possibility of a miracle be maintained in face of the uniformity of nature?these are the matters which thoughtful men earnestly debate, while churches stand by, making-believe not to hear the unwelcome sounds, or vociferous with hysteric terror. Which is the stranger spectacle it were hard to tell-the theologian who, when such a seething sea of doubt and difficulty is breaking in upon the Church, reserves all his thought and passion for the hardship imposed upon the clergy by a Burial Service which will not be silent of Christian hope at the brink of any grave; or he who confidently declares that all modern scriptural difficulties were anticipated by Porphyry and Celsus, and refers Colenso to Archbishop Usher for a refutation of theories which the good Primate never heard of!
But in what palpable guise of fact does this movement of thought make its way to the light? We may pass by for the present the existence of a school of theological speculation beyond the limits of all orthodox churches; for there has perhaps never been a period in the history of Christianity at which the consensus of belief which calls itself orthodoxy, has not reacted to produce the individuality of conviction rightly denominated heresy. Our present concern is with a quite different phenomenon the existence of heresy in the midst of orthodoxy, the half-conscious unfaithfulness of orthodoxy to itself. And first, there exists in the Church of England a small but able party, which claims the right of freely interpreting Scripture within the limits of the Formularies, and which denies, not without some show of legality, that the Articles of the Church can be used to bind down Churchmen to any but the most liberal theory of inspiration. This party, of which Mr. Jowett is perhaps the most distinguished, and the Bishop of Natal the most consistent member, includes also the other writers of "Essays and Reviews," and engages at least the open sympathy of
the Dean of Westminster, the secret good wishes of many more cautious clergymen. To what goal they tend, it would be difficult to say; the fact that the Articles were not framed in a spirit of prophecy, and did not anticipate in the 16th the difficulties of the 19th century, has hitherto given them a certain delusive liberty of action; and until freedom of interpretation, which has never yet proved to be a barren right, produces its natural harvest of independent conviction, they are safe within the Church from any heavier penalty than distrust and contumely. There is another party, often included with the first under the general name of the Broad Church, yet only partly concordant in its motives and its aims, the party which owns the leadership of Mr. Maurice. To what commendation is implied in the word "Broad," this party is entitled, when we compare its pure religious spirituality with the sacerdotal narrowness of the High, the doctrinal straitness of the Low Church; although it persists, with strange unconsciousness, in preaching as the one sufficient gospel, a form of Christian doctrine so subtle as to evade the ordinary comprehension, and so strange as to fall into the category of no historical faith or heresy. Its special theological offences are a merciful interpretation of the texts which relate to eternal punishment, the substitution of a more moral theory of atonement for that which involves the vicarious sacrifice of Christ,-offences which, whenever committed in plain and straightforward speech, will draw down a surer ecclesiastical censure than any which waits for defective theories of inspiration. But there are already signs that this party, when once emancipated from a personal allegiance, the charm of which it is easy to understand, will gradually fade into the former, which has already reached in great measure the same theological results, and contains in its freer and more scientific handling of Scripture the possibility of further progress.
But it would be a great mistake to limit the signs of a movement of theological opinion in the Church of England to the heresy which issues in open speech, or even to the secret sympathy and confessed alarm which it evokes. Another ominous feature is the attention excited by proposed changes in the relation of the Church to the individual believer,-proposals which are met, in the policy of a large party, with a dogged aversion to all change, itself not the
least significant token of the gathering storm. There is an association for the revision of the Liturgy: High-Churchmen who claim to know how souls stand with God at the last moment of life, would willingly have some "relief" in the use of the Burial Service; Low-Churchmen attack the very, citadel of sacerdotalism in the order of Baptism and the form for the Visitation of the Sick: it would be a fatal error to make the Prayer-book as Calvinistic as the Articles; and though the din of battle is loud, neither host yields an inch. There are that would lay profane hands upon the very ark itself, the Articles, and the subscription to them imposed by the Act of Uniformity. Each of the two great parties in the Church bewails that the mesh should be so wide as to let in the other; scrupulous consciences on either side groan beneath the subterfuges of non-natural interpretation; but neither will abandon a delusive safeguard, which admits the subtle, the adroit, the careless, the dishonourable, and keeps out only the thoughtful and the honest. These things bear their natural fruit in the growing distaste of educated young men for the clerical profession. Its prizes are as numerous as heretofore; its social consideration not less; while the larger practical faithfulness to his work which public opinion now exacts of a clergyman would naturally operate as an additional inducement to young and ardent minds. But the number of graduates of the two Universities who present themselves for ordination lessens every year; those who do so present themselves are no longer the heroes of the class list, but the men who have contented themselves with a common degree; while the place of the senior wrangler and the double-first is filled up by the literates, whose deficiency of early education has been hastily repaired by the special training of the theological college. Of men who actually enter the Church, the great majority no doubt find in parochial work the satisfaction of their religious instincts, and, so far as they think at all, think within safe limits of orthodoxy. But how many more secretly chafe beneath the fetters they have put on, yet, all hopeless of release, chafe silently and with a composed face, how many more throw up their work and office in quiet despair, trusting, in spite of legal disabilities, to mix unobserved in the crowd of common men, and to earn their bread without the hard necessity of evasion and double-dealing,-who can tell?