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What is the connection between theological writing and literature ? Shall theology be Theology
and classed as a division of science, and science
literature. ruled out of literature; or shall literature be said to embrace all written matter, and theology be thus included—since no one will deny that of the mass of printed books the religious proportion is huge ? An English critic defines literature thus : “ By literature we mean the written thoughts and feelings of intelligent men and women, arranged in a way which will give pleasure to the reader.” Granting that " religious literature” expresses the thoughts and feelings of intelligent people, is all of it arranged in a way which gives the reader pleasure ? Even if it does, what place shall be assigned it in view of another definition : that real literature must have to do with the ideal, with the imaginative ? Would the vast army of creed-makers, of framers of theological systems, of expounders of Scripture, of writers of moral advice, from the “fathers” down to the preachers of to-day, admit that their statements were ideal, imaginative, unreal, and not, every one of them, eternal and immutable truth? Must
we be forced to the conclusion that there is no true religious literature save that produced by William Langland or Bunyan of old, and the writers of moral novels and Sunday-school books to-day-many of whom, in their pictures of life, are certainly highly imaginative? Or, on the other hand, may literature, to borrow a phrase from Whittier, “turn the crank of an opinion-mill” ?
The answer, I believe, is to be found midway beArt and eth-tween extreme theories. A good man by ics; literature and religion. no means necessarily makes a good book, while a bad man may write an admirable one. Art shall not be measured by ethics, while, on the other hand, not one dictate of common-sense shows that ethics, as ethics, should be brought to any artistic test. Other things being equal, the national literatures, the books in a literature, which have most successfully given art a purpose (yet not forgetting that ars est celare artem), have won the greatest success. And purpose surely includes conscience, benefit, progress. This union, for twelve hundred years, has been specially insisted upon by English and American literature ; and to it that literature owes manymost—of its triumphs. If Christianity is the best of the world's religions; if at its best it is, as its founder meant it to be, pre-eminently spiritual and unritualistic and undogmatic, then it ought to exert a powerful influence upon literature. So, in fact, it has, in every age.
Leaving these general propositions for the special application, it should be said that it is true that pure literature should have a large element of the ideal,
the imaginative, the unpractical. As literature approaches the commonplace, the worldly, the technical, it loses its power. Theological books and religious writings in general are more closely connected with literature than are books of law, political science, geology, geography, ethnology, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, etc., because theological books, even at their worst, profess to concern themselves with the unseen, instead of the seen, with the realm of faith, rather than that of observed fact or of conclusions drawn from physical phenomena. Frankly admitting that thousands of religious books belong to literature in no true sense, it is clear that the religious department of the book-making art more nearly approaches the literary domain than does any department of scientific or technical work. Religious writing is not destitute of imagination, sometimes of the loftiest kind; it often blooms into art or bursts into song; and ever, at its best, its head is among the stars, though its feet be on the earth. We know little about the future life ; but to religion that life is all-important; this fact alone tends to idealize religious writing. Therefore, in American literature, as in any other, the ethical, or, indeed, the distinctly theological, division cannot be ignored.
While it must be admitted that American literature has never produced a religious classic, or a religious book distinctly of the first class, it is
theology clear that its religious department has made better than gains, which, if not commensurate with as literature those in other divisions of intellectual progress, are yet considerable. In intellectual ability, and still more
The later American
in artistic power and skill, the names of Hooker, Cotton, Williams, the Mathers, Willard, Blair, and Hopkins, are easily surpassed by those of Channing, Hodge, Bushnell, Parker, and Brooks. Even in philosophy, I have no question that future students will rank Porter, Hopkins, or McCosh as philosophers equal to Edwards in ability, though relatively of less significance to their time. If this modest gain continue, American literature, founded by—almost upon-religious purpose, will do service to the cause of art as well as that of religion.
But, by no possibility, can the nineteenth century in America be called a theological era. Only when
other literature stagnates, does theology, era pasi, an philosophy, politics, or any science come to
the front. These are not natural literary leaders, for reasons too apparent to need explanation.
In the original book-making part of the New World—that is, in New England—theology held unTheological disputed sway until the middle of the eightchanges. eenth century, when, by the force of events, politics began to appear as its rival. Speeches, and resolutions, and state papers were more essential than creeds and sermons, in the colonial period between 1760 and 1790, though, of course, America was still “full of religious refugees animated by ideas which in England had lately passed out of fashion." * Then, too, the new nation, emancipated from colonial relations, grew so rapidly in numbers and material prosperity that dogmatic and controversial theology seemed relatively of small import
* J. R. Seeley, “The Expansion of England," 297.
ance. For the first thirty years of its constitutional existence, the United States was also involved in foreign affairs, and was busy in trying to settle the relations between the federal idea and the States'rights idea. Thus the conspicuous and apparently all-absorbing religious element appeared to pass somewhat into the background.
That it continued to exist, however, and that it was prized by the best Americans as the ground. The Unitawork of our society and of our thought, rian revival. was evident at the beginning of this century, and is evident to-day. The first twenty-five years after 1800 were made notable, in the history of American intellect, by a religious controversy that excited the New England churches, and was watched with interest by those outside of New England which did not feel its immediate force. This controversy attended the spread of the Unitarian faith in Massachusetts, particularly in its eastern section. The Congregational churches in that part of the state, and in the seaboard towns of New Hampshire and Maine, had slowly but steadily been modifying their Calvinistic and Augustinian sentiments, even before their creeds and forms were changed. Not a few ministers were regarded with suspicion as being “High-Arians,” or “semi-Arians," or at any rate
Arminians"-even by the middle of the eighteenth century. Sermons had become more liberal; the minutiæ of the faith were no longer considered of equal importance with its essentials : and now and then some peculiarly
progressive" utterance gave sincere pain to the conservative party. Indeed, as far back as Chief