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VOLUME II. MAY-AUGUST, 1866
ALEXANDER STRAHAN, PUBLISHER
LONDON AND NEW YORK
Essay on Religious Philosophy. By M. EMILE SAISSET, Professor of the
History of Philosophy in the Faculty of Letters of Paris. Trans-
THE writer who undertakes to defend the teaching of the Christian
Church against the assaults of an unbelieving philosophy is liable to a special temptation to discharge his duty unfaithfully, and is in danger of a special accusation if he confine himself to the task of discharging it faithfully. He is, as it were, established by the grace of God in a goodly city which he builded not, and whose buildings it is his duty simply to defend, not to alter or enlarge, still less to pull down and rebuild. The foundation, other than which no man can lay, is laid already,—the city, whose builder is God, has been completed by his appointed workmen ; it may not be added to nor diminished from. Its defender, be he never so successful in repelling the enemy from its walls, can at the utmost but leave it as it was before the assault was made; it is well if he leave it not with marks of the deadly conflict on its front. No portion of its sacred walls will bear his name as founder; no tower or bulwark will point out to future ages his share in the work. His most complete success will be to leave no trace behind of the battle he has fought; to consign to
oblivion the assaults of his conquered enemies, and with them his own achievements as conqueror.
Hence arises the accusation as well as the temptation to which the Christian apologist is exposed—the accusation that his efforts have produced a merely negative result, the temptation to escape from the charge by aiming at something independent and positive. So long as he confines himself merely to the task of defending the teaching of the Church, the positive side of his belief will be found in that faith which the Church has handed down from the beginning; his own work will have but a relative and accidental value, in connection with the temporary controversies by which that faith has been assailed.
There are two ways in which a philosophy may lead to negative results; but the effects of the two are diametrically opposite as regards religious belief. A philosophy which professes to be the handmaid of theology, and to be indebted for her highest truths to Divine revelation, not to human speculation, must necessarily assume a negative office in dealing with those truths which, by her own confession, are derived from and established by a higher authority. Her office is not to prove such truths, but to defend them; not to exhibit them as conclusions which reason is competent to establish, but to maintain them as positions which reason is not competent to overthrow. Thus viewed, her results, regarded simply and by themselves, must needs be negative; but they are negative in relation to a previously existing system of positive truths, and they point to belief in those truths as their ultimate though indirect purpose. Philosophy thus employed does not indeed build the fortress which she defends; but she has no need to do so, for the fortress is built already.
Far different is the position and effect of philosophy, when employed in independence of, or in opposition to, external authority. By her profession of independence, she binds herself, if she aspire to anything beyond mere scepticism, to the task of building up as well as of pulling down. She proclaims herself as the highest source of truth, and challenges an estimate of her pretensions solely on the absolute certainty and value of the truths which she is able to supply. If she confine herself to the task of refuting error, or what she deems to be error, her conclusions are not merely relatively but absolutely negative; they destroy an existing belief, but they offer nothing as a substitute in its place. If she aim, not merely at refuting the positions of others, but at establishing her own, she stakes the attainment of positive truth solely on her success in the latter endeavour: if this fail while the former succeeds, she is again absolutely negative in act and result, however positive in profession and intention.
The difference between an independent and a subordinate philosophy of religion extends itself also to the methods adopted by each,