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ART. I.—THE DRIFT PERIOD IN THEOLOGY.
1. The Religious Demands of the Age. By FRANCES POWER COBBE. Boston: Walker, Fuller, & Co.
2. Broken Lights; or, Inquiry into the Present Condition and Future Prospects of Religious Faith. By the same Author. London: Trübner & Co.
3. Thoughts in Aid of Faith, gathered chiefly from Recent Works in Philosophy and Theology. By SARA S. HENnel. London:
GEOLOGISTS tell us of the Drift period in the formation of the earth's crust, a period very indefinite in extent, though distinctly enough marked as to character. When it began cannot be told; when it will end cannot be told: but the importance of it is conceded to be immense. Some of the most marked features of the globe are traceable to it, and the way in which they were effected is even now visible broadly on the face of the planet. The sands of the desert, driven in vast masses before the powerful winds, have, in the course of ages, grooved or levelled large portions of the crust of the globe. Rivers have carried the uplands to the lowlands, and have cast mountains into the sea, as they rolled through thousands of miles of territory. Glaciers have taken rocks on their icy bosoms, and borne them far away to distant regions; effecting changes that, until recently, baffled the
cunning of scientific men. The flow and refluence of mighty ocean-tides, the advance and retreat of tremendous floods, the movements of sea margins, — all going forward through myriads of years, -wrought their wonders of destruction and construction silently and slowly, to the amazement of modern men. The marks of their action differ much in different parts of the globe, as the materials on which they worked differed; but the general characteristics are the same everywhere. They all indicate the action of drift, not the action of volcano.
In this respect, as in so many others, there is a close analogy between the intellectual and the physical creation. There is a Drift period in the geological history of the mind. There is a Drift period in the soul. We are in the midst of such a period now: we have always been in the midst of such a period; but now the signs of it are more conspicuous than they have been hitherto. In past epochs, the volcanic agency has been prominent. There have been great eruptions of hot, passionate thought, in which the under-world was belched out in huge volumes of liquid fire; the burning torrents of lava were poured over the cultivated fields of peaceful speculation, and the villages where tranquil people lived in the olden memory and faith were consumed. Men like Abelard, Wiclif, Savonarola, Huss, Luther, and their precursors, contemporaries, and successors, were the Etna, the Vesuvius, the Hecla, or Stromboli of the religious world. They were vent-holes for the hidden fires. The changes they wrought were of the nature of revolutions. They modified the surface of the theological world by a sudden shock in the course of a few years. Through them ideas burst violently through the crust of the ecclesiastical and metaphysical world, and tossed the creeds of men about in wild confusion. They made around themselves first a desolation, then a garden. But the alterations which they produced were, after all, more conspicuous than radical. The mightiest changes were not of their effecting.
The volcanic period in thought seems to have ended. The drift period has come in. Quiet movements have succeeded
to violent eruptions. Changes come evenly, tranquilly, slowly; but they come powerfully, and with uninterrupted action. The intellectual period we allude to betrays its character by signs which cannot be misunderstood, and which are too palpable to be overlooked. It is remarkable, in the first place, that the intellectual, or, if we please to call it so, the spiritual movement of our generation is universal; not limited to particular countries, not confined in special channels, but covering the whole surface of the civilized globe. It is visible in both hemispheres. Europe and America equally manifest it. No matter where one may be, in the United States, in England, in France, in Austria, Italy, Russia, Spain, -even, as Miss Cobbe tells us, in the oriental world of Brahminism and Islam, the silent changes go on with the same character and intent. The same forces are impelling in the same direction. There is a wonderful omnipresence of ideas, a startling ubiquity of thought and experience. The same questions are asked, and the same answers are given to them, at nearly the same instant, in all the parts of the globe, where men think. The mass moves.
The movement is not confined to any religious party. We often speak of the liberal school in theology. But every church has its liberal school. Every creed has its body of liberal interpreters. Every sect has its dissenters. Unitarianism, at the late convention in New York, looked very compact and stationary. The one hundred and ninety-five churches set their faces firmly against any innovation in thought or in phrase, liberalism was solemnly frowned down, and the movement party was somewhat ungently repudiated. But the individual members of the convention felt hurt when this was said; declared that it was not true; insisted that the meetings had been misunderstood; that the whole spirit of the occasion was progressive and forward-looking. There appeared to be no movement in the mass; but the particles were all astir. The body was full of unrest, and was unconsciously drifting towards the very liberalism it abhorred.
Every sect in Protestantism has its two schools, its old and its new school: they cannot separate; and the new
school predicts the destiny of the old. The definitions must be defined, and those definitions must be defined again; and each definition places the truth in a position different from the last. Ideas detach themselves from their local connections. Doctrines slip from their moorings, and float quietly to other landing-places. Words and phrases get loosened from their associations, and lodged in the neighborhood of other thoughts. Creeds insensibly become transported from one region of the mind to another; - from understanding to imagination, from reason to prejudice, from faith to fancy; and take on very different hues as they pass through the several phases of their progress. The same doctrines are maintained, if we may credit the forms of speech; but they change color and texture as much as an iceberg does in passing from arctic to tropical seas. How does the Trinity look in the zone of philosophical speculation which it has at present reached? Does modern sentiment produce no effect on the dogma of total depravity? Has the mental friction ,of the last half-century modified in no degree the shape of the conception of the Christ? Does the Bible read the same by the light of our skies as it did while it lay open under the cloudy heavens of the dark ages? Men, afloat on their ark of theology, fancy the shores rushing past them, as they lie stationary on the stream of Truth; but the stationary thing is the shore. It is they that move.
In a recent article, we spoke of the Roman Church as drifting with the rest on the bosom of "thought's coursing stream," and as confessing, through her own sins, the fatal power of the movement that bore on in the direction whither the spirit of the age is driving. An anonymous reviewer thought it worth his while to combat that, and protested earnestly against the charge that the Roman Church shared in the instability of the rest of Christendom. But protest is not argument, nor is assertion evidence, nor are insinuations proof. Solemn prediction of the danger of following certain courses are, as we all know, very feeble guarantees that the "certain courses 19 are not pursued by those who make the predictions. The writer failed to meet our points: he