« AnteriorContinuar »
inherited from my grandfather, I was free to follow my own tastes and pleasures. I was past middle age, unmarried, and had no near relatives dependent on me for support or protection. I was as free as a man can be in this world; had originally an excellent constitution, which I had not always respected, and was now suffering from early imprudences and ills incident to idleness and good living. My real complaint was, that I had nothing to do, or to take up my attention ; so, as I said, my physicians ordered me to try the waters of the new spa. I cannot say much for the waters, but the journey I was forced to make, the change of scenery, the pure mountain air, and the intellectual and intelligent company I found had their effect, and, after an absence of a few months, I returned to my home completely renovated in body, and with my mind engaged with a subject not unlikely to occupy the rest of my life.
While at the spring, around which had sprung up a small village called Springdale, consisting of an unfinished meeting-honse, one or two boarding-houses, and a large hotel, I formed the acquaintance of several gentlemen whose conversation interested me much. Among them were two who particularly attracted my attention. One, many years the elder, was apparently a minister or a priest, with a quiet and unobtrusive manner, evidently a man of foreign birth and education, but speaking English as if it had been his native tongue. He must have been at least threescore and ten, but his form was erect and his eye undimmed, his natural strength unabated, and his voice unbroken, sweet, melodious, and sympathetic. He had for me a singular attraction, and I felt prepossessed in his favor at first sight. The other was an active, energetic man, under middle age, well made, with dark hair, heavy brows, and sharp, restless, black eyes. IIis manner was not rude, but brisk and a little imperious, and he spoke always in a bold, confident tone, from which no appeal might be taken. Ile gave always his opinion promptly and unhesitatingly on any and every subject that came up, and seemed to have left no subject in law, politics, theology, literature, science, or art on which he was not competent to pass a final judgment. It is hardly necessary to add that he was the chief editor of a leading metropolitan journal.
The two gentlemen were much together, and seemed to take no little interest in each other, although I could not discover that any topic was ever broached between them on which they did not disagree very essentially. Their conversation, or rather their discussion, attracted me as a listener, at first as drawing off my thoughts from myself, and afterwards by the interest it awakened in the subjects on which it chiefly turned, and I seldom failed to hear it. Over guests seemed as much attracted as myself, and whenever we saw them seated under the shade of the old maple-trees left standing near our hotel, we formed a ring around them, and sat and listened in silence.
The editor was a man of our times, animated by the spirit of the age, and a firm believer in our glorious nineteenth century. “ The greatest objection, Father," said he one day to the priest, as I soon learned he was, “to the church, is her unprogressive character. She fails to keep religion up with the times, refuses to advance with modern society, and the world goes on without her.”
“Whitler?” quietly asked the priest.
“Do you mean that the church herself is not progressive, or that she opposes progress in individuals and society ?”
“Both. The church is stationary, remains what she was in the dark ages, does her best to keep society back where it was a thousand years ago, and to prevent the human race from taking a step forward."
“There is, I suppose, no doubt of that?” “Not the least."
"Is it not possible for the church to remain immovable herself, and yet be very progressive in her influence on individuals and society generally ?”
“ To aid progress the church must be herself progressive.”
“You see, then, neither argument nor wit in Dr. Johnson's reply to the learned butcher who gave it as his opinion that to criticise a great poet, one should himself be a great poet: 'Nonsense, sir! as well say he who kills fat oxen should liimself be fat. I have always thonght differently. Progress is motion; and if I have not forgotten what my professor of mechanics taught me, there is no motion possible without something at rest. Motion reqrires a mover, and the mover cannot move unless it is itself immovable. A man cannot make any progress if he stands on a movable foundation, as you may see in the case of the poor fellow in the treadmill. `Archimedes, in order to move the world, demanded a whereon to rest the fulcrum of his lever outside of the world he proposed to move. The church, if herself
movable or progressive, could not aid either social or indi. vidual progress ; she would simply change with the changes going on around her, and could neither aid nor control them.”
“But, Reverend Father, you overlook the fact that it is: precisely in herself that progress is most needed. She teaches the same dogmas and claims the same authority over the mind, the heart, and the conscience in this enlightened age, and in this free republic, that she did in the barbarous ages under feudalism, and what she teaches and claims ceases to be in harmony with men's convictions, or their sense of their own rights and dignity."
The church, then, you think, in order to be able to serve the world, should not govern it, but suffer herself to be governed by it, and take care to teach it only what it already believes and holds? This is a very good principle, no doubt, for a journalist, who seeks only a wide circulation for his journal, but do you think our Lord acted on it? Did he find the convictions of the world he came to redeem and save in harmony with his doctrines and claims? If so, how came the Jews to reject him and crucify him between two thieves? Did the apostles teach only such doctrines and put forth only such claims as were in harmony with the sentiments and convictions of their age? Why, then, did their age make martyrs of them? How much would our Lord and his apostles or Christians during the martyr ageshave done to advance the world, think you, if they had only echoed its opinions, approved its superstitions, and suffered themselves to be dictated to and governed by it? Would you have the church conform to the world and be a time-server? For my part, I have always held the church to be instituted to teach and govern all men and nations in all things spiritual, and not to be taught and governed by them."
“ That is precisely my objection. The church places herself above the people, assumes to be wiser than they, claims the right to govern them, and therefore denies their sover
"Their sovereignty in spirituals, certainly; in temporals, as against the inherent sovereignty of kings or nobilities, not at all. But you are losing sight of your objection. You objected to the church that she is not progressive, teaches now the same doctrines and makes the same claims that she taught and made in the dark ages. Be it so. Are those doc
trines false and unfounded? If so, you should have objected their falsity and invalidity. If true and just, how can she depart from them without departing from truth and justice? Your objection is not well taken, unless you hold that truth and justice are variable, and change from age to age and from nation to nation, or as men's views of them change."
“Your church is undemocratic, and places herself above the people, allows the people no voice in her administration, or in determining the doctrines to be taught.
“ All in good time, my dear Mr. Editor. Just at present, pray tell me if truth is variable—one thing to-day and another to-morrow?”
“Truth, like every thing else, is progressive.
“Do you mean that the truth itself is progressive, or that our knowledge of it is progressive?”
“Progress is the law of the universe. "
“Of the created universe, in relation to the end for which it exists, be it so; but do you pretend that the Creator of the universe is progressive ?”
"Because he is being in its plenitude, and could not ibe Creator if he were not. Progress is going from imperfection towards perfection, and is predicable only of an existence that depends on another for its being, and that has not yet actualized all the possibilities of its nature. God is independent, needs only himself, is eternally perfect, is, as say the theologians, most pure act, in whose nature there are and can be no potentialities or unactualized possibilities, consequently in him there is no room for progress. To .suppose him progressive, is to suppose him a creature, imperfect, dependent, movable ; and to suppose him, or to suppose truth movable or progressive, is to fall into the error of those whom Plato calls the ancestors of the Greeks, who held that all things are in a perpetual flux and reflux, and that there is nothing fixed or stable. We should thus deny progress in the very act of asserting it.”
“If all things are in a perpetual flux and reflux, there is for things neither beginning nor end, and without both no progress is possible. Progress is proceeding, morally as well as physically, from a starting-point to an end or goal. It ineans literally stepping forward, that is, action from a fixed point to a fixed point; remove the points, and no .progress is conceivable. Before you can pronounce a man
progressive, you must know that he has a beginning as well as an end; so truth must have a beginning and an end, in order to be progressive. You must say the same of God. Will you say now that God is progressive ?"
"I pretend not that. He is without variableness, or shadow of turning. But truth is not God.”
" What is it then?"
“Nobody can say. We only know what it is in relation to nis, or what seems to us to be true. We never know the absolute; our knowledge stops with the relative. Things may be true to you, and not to me; in one age or country, and not in another. I have no doubt that the doctrines and claims of the church were very admissible in the dark ages, and that they then served the cause of progress, of religion, of civilization. They were then in harmony with the age, and were true and useful; but that does not imply that they are either now."
“ Beware, my dear friend, of the treadmill. It is painful to be compelled to stand on the wheel, to keep stepping from morning to evening and never get a step forward. But will you tell me what doctrines or claims of the church were true and useful in the dark ages that are false and hurtful
“We need not descend to particulars. There is no doubt that the church for several centuries after the fall of the Roman empire of the West, was a powerful and beneficent institution, and exerted a happy influence in promoting civilization. She saved from utter destruction the arts, the literature, and the sciences of the old Græco-Roman world ; she softened the manners, and infused the sentiments of humanity into the hearts of the rude barbarians that issued forth from the forests of Germany and seated themselves on the ruins of the empire, by preaching to them the doctrine of brotherly love, by presenting them as the model of all excellence the meek and lowly Jesus, going about doing good when he had not where to lay his head, and dying on the cross for the redemption of his enemies, whom with his latest breath he forgave and prayed for. But having done that work, she is now only in the way of further progress.
“ The preservation of the arts, literature, and sciences of the old Græco-Roman world could do nothing to advance civilization beyond the point reached by Greece and Rome, and therefore can hardly be said to have done any thing for progress. Was it by what she retained of the old civiliza