Nor ought this method of comparison to be laid aside even at this point. It would be requisite, for a full discovery of the intellectual causes that the generalization should be carried further, and the operations of free thought watched in reference to other subjects than religion.(68) Reason in its action, first on Christianity both in Europe and elsewhere, secondly on Jewish and heathen religions, lastly on any body of truth which rests on traditional authority,—these would be the scientific steps necessary for eliminating accidental phenomena, and discovering the real laws which have operated in this branch of intellectual history. The suggestion of such a plan of study, though obviously too large to be here pursued, may offer matter of thought to reflective minds, and may at least help to raise the subject out of the narrow sphere to which it is usually supposed to belong. The result of the survey would confirm the view of the struggle now about to be given which is suggested by European history.
When any new material of thought, such as a new religion which interferes with the previous standard of belief, is presented to the human mind; or when conversely any alteration in the state of knowledge on which the human mind forms its judgment, imparts to an old established religion an aspect of opposition which was before unperceived; the religion is subjected to the ordeal of an investigation. Science examines the doctrines taught by it, criticism the evidence on which they profess to rest, and the literature which is their expression. And if such an investigation fail to establish the harmony of the old and the new, the result takes two forms: either the total rejection of the particular religion, and sometimes even of the supernatural generally, or else an eclecticism which seeks by means of philosophy to discover and appropriate the hidden truth to which the religion was an attempt to give expression.
The attack however calls forth the defence. Accordingly the result of this action and reaction is to produce scientific precision, either apologetic or dogmatic, within the religious system, and scepticism outside of it; both reconstructive in purpose, but the former defensive in its method, the latter destructive. The elements of truth which exist on both sides are brought to light by the controversy, and after the struggle has passed become the permanent property of the world.
These statements, which convey a general expression for the influence of free thought in relation to religion, are verified in the history of Christianity.
There are four epochs at which the struggle of reason against the authority of the Christian religion has been especially manifest, each characterized by energy and intensity of speculative thought, and exhibiting on the one hand partial or entire unbelief, or on the other a more systematic expression of Christian doctrine; epochs in fact of temporary peril, of permanent gain.(69)
In the first of these periods, extending from the second to the fourth century, Christianity is seen in antagonism with forms of Greek or Eastern philosophy, and the existence is apparent of different forms of scepticism or reason used in attack. The very attempt of the Alexandrian school of theology to adjust the mysteries of Christianity and of the Bible to speculative thought, by a well meant but extravagant use of allegorical interpretation, is itself a witness of the presence or pressure of free thought. The less violent of the two forms of unbelief is seen in the Gnostics, the rationalists of the early Church, who summoned Christianity to the bar of philosophy, and desired to appropriate the portion of its teachings which approved itself to their eclectic tastes; the more violent kind in the rejection of Christianity as an imposture, or in the attempts made to refer its origin to psychological causes, on the part of the early enemies of Christianity, Celsus and Julian, prototypes of the positive unbelievers of later times. The Greek theology, which embodied the dogmatic statements in which the Christian Church under the action of controversy gave explicit expression to its implicit belief, is the example of the stimulus which the pressure of free thought gave to the use of reason in defence.
As we pass down the course of European history, the Pagan literature which had suggested the first attack disappears: but as soon as the elements of civilization, which survived the deluge that overwhelmed the Roman empire, had been sufficiently consolidated to allow of the renewal of speculation, a repetition of the contest may be observed.
The revived study of the Greek philosophers, and of their Arabic commentators introduced from the Moorish universities of Spain, with the consequent rise of the scholastic philosophy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, furnished material for a renewal of the struggle of reason against authority, a second crisis in the history of the Church. The history of it becomes complicated by the circumstance that free thought, in the process of disintegrating the body of authoritative teaching, now began to assume on several occasions a new shape, a kind of incipient Protestantism. Doubting neither Christianity nor the Bible, it is seen to challenge merely that part of the actual religion which, as it conceived, had insinuated itself from human sources in the lapse of ages. Accordingly, the critical independence of Nominalism, in a mind like that of Abelard, represents the destructive action of free thought, partly as early Protestantism, partly as scepticism; while the series of noted Realists, of which Aquinas is an example, that tried anew to adjust faith to science, and thus created the Latin theology, represents the defensive action of reason. The imparting scientific definition to the immemorial doctrines of the Church constituted the defence.
In the later middle ages, however, philosophy gradually succeeded in emancipating itself so entirely from theology, that when the Renaissance came, and a large body of heathen thought was introduced into the current of European life by means of ancient literature, a third crisis occurred. The independence passed into open revolt, and, fostered by political confusion and material luxury, expressed itself in a literature of unbelief.
The mental awakening which had commenced in art and extended to literature paved the way for a spiritual awakening. The Reformation itself, though the product of a deep consciousness of spiritual need, an emancipation of soul as well as mind, is nevertheless a special instance of the same dissolution of mediaeval life, and must therefore be regarded as belonging to the same general movement of free thought, though not to that sceptical form of it which comes within the field of our investigation. For Protestantism, though it be scepticism in respect of the authority of the traditional teaching of the Church, yet reposes implicitly on an outward authority revealed in the sacred books of holy Scripture, and restricts the exercise of freedom within the limits prescribed by this authority; whereas scepticism proper is an insurrection against the outward authority or truth of the inspired books, and reposes on the unrevealed, either on consciousness or on science. The one is analogous to a school of art which desires to reform itself by the use of ancient models; the other to one which professes to return to an unassisted study of nature. The spiritual earnestness which characterized the Reformation prevented the changes in religious belief from developing into scepticism proper; and the theology of the Reformation is accordingly an example of defence and reconstruction as well as of revulsion.
During the century which followed, mental activity found employment in other channels in connexion with the political struggles which resulted from the religious changes. But the seventeenth age was another of those epochs which form crises in the history of the human mind. The reconstruction at that time of the methods on which science depends, by Bacon from the empirical side, by Descartes from the intellectual, created as great a revolution in knowledge as the Renaissance had produced in literature or the Reformation in religion; and a body of materials was presented from which philosophers ventured to criticise the Bible and the dogmatic teaching of the Church. This fourth great period of free thought, which extends to the present time, has been marked by more striking events than former ones.(70) Though the movement relates to a similar sphere, the history is rendered more complex by union with literature, and connexion as cause or effect with social changes, as well as by the reciprocal operation of its influence in different countries. Language, which is always a record of opinion, popular or scientific,(71) classifies the forms of this last great movement of free thought under three names, viz. Deism in England in the early part of the eighteenth century; Infidelity in France in the latter part of it; and Rationalism in Germany in the nineteenth; movements which exhibit characteristics respectively of the three nations, and of their intellectual and general history. English Deism, the product of the reasoning spirit which was stimulated by political events, directed itself against the special revelation of Christianity from the stand-point of the religion of natural reason, and ran a course parallel with the gradual emancipation of the individual from the power of the state. French infidelity, breathing the spirit of materialist philosophy, halted not till it brought its devotees even to atheism, and mingled itself with the great movements of political revolution, which ultimately reconstituted French society. German Rationalism, empirical or spiritual,(72) in two parallel developments, the philosophical and the literary, neither coldly denied Christianity with the practical doubts of the English deists, nor flippantly denounced it as imposture with the trenchant and undiscriminating logic of the French infidels; but appreciating its beauty with the freshness of a poetical genius, and regarding it as one phase of the religious consciousness, endeavoured, by means of the methods employed in secular learning, to collect the precious ideas of eternal truth to which Christianity seemed to it to give expression, and by means of speculative criticism to exhibit the literary and psychological causes which it supposed had overlaid them with error.
Nor has the activity of reason used in defence been less manifest in these later movements. The great works on the Christian evidences are the witness to its presence; and the deeper and truer appreciation of Christianity now shown in every country, and the increasing interest felt in religion, are the indirect effect, under the guidance of divine Providence, of the stirring of the religious apprehension by controversy.(73)
We have thus at once exhibited the province which will be hereafter investigated in detail, and stated the general law observable in the conflict between free thought and Christianity. The type reappears, perpetuated by the fixity of mind, though the form varies under the force of circumstances. Christianity being stationary and authoritative, thought progressive and independent, the causes which stimulate the restlessness of the latter interrupt the harmony which ordinarily exists between belief and knowledge, and produce crises during which religion is re-examined. Disorganization is the temporary result; theological advance the subsequent. Whatever is evil is eliminated in the conflict; whatever is good is retained. Under the overruling of a beneficent Providence, antagonism is made the law of human progress.
The restriction of our inquiry to the consideration of the free action of reason will cause our attention to be almost entirely confined to the operation of reason in its attack on Christianity, to the neglect of the evidences which the other office of it has presented in defence; and will also exclude altogether the study of struggles, where the opposition to Christianity has rested on an appeal to the authority of rival sacred books; such for example as the conflict with rival religions like the Jewish (4) or Mahometan (5); as well as of heresies which, like the Socinian (6), claim, however unjustly, to rest on the authority of the Christian revelation.
The law thus sketched of this struggle needs fuller explanation. We must employ a more exact analysis to gain a conception of the causes which have operated at different periods to make free thought develop into unbelief.
It will be obvious that the causes must depend, either upon the nature of the Christian religion, which is the subject, or of the mind of man, which is the agent of attack. The former were touched upon in the opening remarks of this lecture, and may be reconsidered hereafter;(74) but it is necessary to gain a general view of the latter before treating them in their application in future lectures.
These causes, so far as they are spiritual and disconnected from admixture with political circumstances, may be stated to be of two kinds, viz. intellectual and moral; the intellectual explaining the types of thought, the moral the motives which have from time to time existed.(75) The actions, and generally the opinions of a human being, are the complex result arising from the union of both. Yet the two elements, though closely intertwined in a concrete instance, can be apprehended separately as objects of abstract thought; and the forms of manifestation and mode of operation peculiar to each can be separately traced.
In a history of thought, the antagonism created by the intellect rather than by the heart seems the more appropriate subject of study, and will be almost exclusively considered in these lectures. Nevertheless a brief analysis must be here given of the mode in which the moral is united with the intellectual in the formation of opinions. This is the more necessary, lest we should seem to commit the mistake of ignoring the existence or importance of the emotional element, if the restriction of our point of view to the intellectual should hereafter prevent frequent references to it.
The influence of the moral causes in generating doubt, though sometimes exaggerated, is nevertheless real. Psychological analysis shows that the emotions operate immediately on the will, and the will on the intellect. Consequently the emotion of dislike is able through the will to prejudice the judgment, and cause disbelief of a doctrine against which it is directed.(76) Nor can we doubt that experience confirms the fact. Though we must not rashly judge our neighbour, nor attempt to measure in any particular mind the precise amount of doubt which is due to moral causes, yet it is evident that where a freethinker is a man of immoral or unspiritual life, whose interests incline him to disbelieve in the reality of Christianity, his arguments may reasonably be suspected to be suggested by sins of character, and by dislike to the moral standard of the Christian religion, and, though not on this account necessarily undeserving of attention, must be watched at every point with caution, in order that the emotional may be eliminated from the intellectual causes.
It is also a peculiarity belonging to the kind of evidence on which religion rests for proof, that it offers an opportunity for the subtle influence of moral causes, where at first sight intellectual might seem alone to act. For the evidence of religion is probable, not demonstrative; and it is the property of probable evidence that the character and experience determine the comparative weight which the mind assigns in it to the premises.(77) In demonstrative evidence there is no opportunity for the intrusion of emotion; but in probable reasoning the judgment ultimately formed by the mind depends often as much upon the antecedent presumptions brought to the investigation of the subject, as upon the actual proofs presented; the state of feeling causing a variation in the force with which a proposition commends itself to the mind at different times. The very subtlety of this influence, which requires careful analysis for its detection, causes it to be overlooked. Accordingly, in a subject like religion, the emotions may secretly insinuate themselves in the preliminary step of determining the weight due to the premises, even where the final process of inference is purely intellectual.
We can select illustrations of this view of the subtlety of the operation of prejudice from instances of a kind unlike the one previously named; in which it will be seen that the disinclination of the inquirer to accept Christianity has not arisen primarily from the obstacle caused by the enmity of his own carnal heart, but from antipathy toward the moral character of those who have professed the Christian faith.
Who can doubt, that the corrupt lives of Christians in the later centuries of the middle ages, the avarice of the Avignon popes, the selfishness shown in the great schism, the simony and nepotism of the Roman court of the fifteenth century, excited disgust and hatred toward Christianity in the hearts of the literary men of the Renaissance, which disqualified them for the reception of the Christian evidences; or that the social disaffection in the last century in France incensed the mind against the Church that supported alleged public abuses,(78) until it blinded a Voltaire from seeing any goodness in Christianity; or that the religious intolerance shown within the present century by the ecclesiastical power in Italy drove a Leopardi(79) and a Bini(80) into doubt; or that the sense of supposed personal wrong and social isolation deepened the unbelief of Shelley(81) and of Heinrich Heine?(82) Whatever other motives may have operated in these respective cases, the prejudices which arose from the causes just named, doubtless created an antecedent impression against religion, which impeded the lending an unbiassed ear to its evidence.
The subtlety of the influence in these instances makes them the more instructive. If, as we contemplate them, our sympathies are so far enlisted on the side of the doubters that it becomes necessary to check ourselves in exculpating them, by the consideration that they were responsible for failing to separate the essential truth of Christianity from the accidental abuse of it shown in the lives of its professors, we can imagine so much the more clearly, how great was the danger to these doubters themselves of omitting the introspection of their own characters necessary for detecting the prejudice which actually seemed to have conscience on its side; and can realize more vividly from these instances the secrecy and intense subtlety of the influence of the feelings in the formation of doubt, and infer the necessity of most careful attention for its discovery in others, and watchfulness in detecting it in our own hearts.
There are other cases of doubt, however, where the influence of the emotional element, if it operates at all, is reduced to a minimum, and the cause accordingly seems wholly intellectual. This may happen when the previous convictions of the mind are shaken by the knowledge of some fact newly brought before its notice; such as the apparent conflict between the Hebrew record of a universal deluge(83) and the negative evidence of geology as to its non-occurrence; or the historical discrepancies between the books of Kings and Chronicles,(84) or the varying accounts of the genealogy and resurrection of Christ. A doubt purely intellectual in its origin might also arise, as we know was the case with the pious Bengel,(85) in consequence of perceiving the variety of readings in the sacred text; or, as in many of the German critics, from the difficulty created by the long habit of examining the classical legends and myths, in satisfying themselves about the reasons why similar criticism should not be extended to the early national literature of the Hebrews. Causes of doubt like these, which spring from the advance of knowledge, necessarily belong primarily to the intellectual region. The intellect is the cause and not merely the condition of them. But there is room even here for an emotional element; and the state of heart may be tested by noticing whether the mind gladly and proudly grasps at them or thoughtfully weighs them with serious effort to discover the truth. The moral causes may reinforce or may check the intellectual: but the distinctness of the two classes is apparent. Though co-existing and interlocked, they may be made subjects of independent study.
The preceding analysis of the relations of the moral and intellectual facilities in the formation of religious opinions might enable us to criticise the ethical inferences drawn in reference to man's responsibility for his belief. Those who think that our characters, moral and intellectual, are formed for us by circumstances, are consistent in denying or depreciating responsibility.(86) There is a danger however among Christian writers of falling into the opposite error, of dwelling so entirely on the moral causes, in forgetfulness of the intellectual, as to teach not only that unbelief of the Christian religion is sin, (which few would dispute,) but that even transient doubt of it is sinful; and thus to repel unbelievers by imputing to them motives of which their consciences acquit them.
A truth however is contained in this opinion, though obscured by being stated with exaggeration, inasmuch as the fact is overlooked that doubts may be of many different kinds. Sinfulness cannot, for example, be imputed to the mere scepticism of inquiry, the healthy critical investigation of methods or results; nor to the scepticism of despair, which, hopeless of finding truth, takes up a reactionary and mystical attitude;(87) nor to the cases (if such can ever be,) of painful doubt, perhaps occasionally even of partial unbelief, which are produced exclusively by intellectual causes, without admixture of moral ones. This variety of form should create caution in measuring the degree of sinfulness involved in individual cases of doubt. Yet the inclination to condemn in such instances contains the fundamental truth that the moral causes are generally so intertwined with the intellectual in the assumption of data, if not in the process of inference, that there is a ground for fearing that the fault may be one of will, not of intellect, even though undetected by the sceptic himself. And a conscientious mind will learn the practical lesson of exercising the most careful self-examination in reference to its doubts, and especially will use the utmost caution not to communicate them needlessly to others. The Hebrew Psalmist, instead of telling his painful misgivings, harboured them in God's presence until he found the solution.(88) The delicacy exhibited in forbearing unnecessarily to shake the faith of others is a measure of the disinterestedness of the doubter. "If I say, I will speak thus; behold I should offend against the generation of thy children."
These remarks will enable us to estimate the manner and degree in which the emotions may, consciously or unconsciously, influence the operations of the intellect in reference to religion; and will clear the way for the statement of that which is to form the special subject of study in these lectures, the nature and mode of operation of the intellectual causes, and the forms of free thought in religion to which they may give rise. This branch is frequently neglected, because satisfying the intellect rather than the heart, indicating tendencies rather than affording means to pronounce judgment on individuals; yet it admits of greater certainty, and will perhaps in some respects be found to be not less full of instruction, than the other.
We must distinctly apprehend what is here intended by the term "intellectual cause," when applied to a series of phenomena like sceptical opinions. It does not merely denote the antecedent ideas which form previous links in the same chain of thought: these are sufficiently revealed by the chronicle which records the series. Nor does it mean the uniformity of method according to which the mind is observed to act at successive intervals: this is the law or formula, the existence of which has been already indicated.(89) But we intend by "cause" two things; either the sources of knowledge which have from age to age thrown their materials into the stream of thought, and compelled reason to re-investigate religion and try to harmonize the new knowledge with the old beliefs; or else the ultimate intellectual grounds or tests of truth on which the decision in such cases has been based, the most general types of thought into which the forms of doubt can be analysed. The problem is this:—Given, these two terms: on the one hand the series of opinions known as the history of free thought in religion; on the other the uniformity of mode in which reason has operated. Interpolate two steps to connect them together, which will show respectively the materials of knowledge which reason at successive moments brought to bear on religion, and the ultimate standards of truth which it adopted in applying this material to it. It is the attempt to supply the answer to this problem that will give organic unity to these lectures.
A few words will suffice in reference to the former of these two subjects, inasmuch as it has already been described to some extent,(90) and will be made clear in the course of the history. The branches of knowledge with which the movements of free thought in religion are connected, are chiefly literary criticism and science. The one addresses itself to the record of the revelation; the other to the matter contained in the record. Criticism, when it gains canons of evidence for examining secular literature, applies them to the sacred books; directing itself in its lower(91) form to the variations in their text; in its higher(92) to their genuineness and authenticity. Science, physical or metaphysical, addresses itself to the question of the credibility of their contents. In its physical form, when it has reduced the world to its true position in the universe of space, human history in the cycles of time, and the human race in the world of organic life, it compares these discoveries with the view of the universe and of the physical history of the planet contained in the sacred literature; or it examines the Christian doctrine of miraculous interposition and special providence by the light of its gradually increasing conviction of the uniformity of nature. In its moral and metaphysical forms, science examines such subjects as the moral history of the Hebrew theocracy; or ponders reverently over the mystery of the divine scheme of redemption, and the teaching which scripture supplies on the deepest problems of speculation, the relations of Deity to the universe, the act of creation, the nature of evil, and the administration of moral providence.
There is another mode, however, in which speculative philosophy has operated, which needs fuller explanation. It has not merely, like the other sciences, suggested results which have seemed to clash with Christianity, but has supplied the ultimate grounds of proof to which appeal has consciously been made, or which have been unconsciously assumed:—the ultimate types of thought which have manifested themselves in the struggle.(93)
It will be useful, before exhibiting this kind of influence in reference to religion, to illustrate its character by selecting an instance from some region of thought where its effects would be least suspected. The example shall be taken from the history of literature.
If we compare three poets selected from the last three centuries, the contrast will exhibit at once the change which has taken place in the literary spirit and standard of judgment, and the correspondence of the change with fluctuations in the predominant philosophy of the time.—If we commence with the author of the Paradise Lost, we listen to the last echo of the poetry which had belonged to the great outburst of mind of the earlier part of the seventeenth century, and of the faith in the supernatural which had characterized Puritanism. His philosophy is Hebrew: he hesitates not to interpret the divine counsels; but it is by the supposed light of revelation. Doubt is unknown to him. The anthropomorphic conception of Deity prevails. Material nature is the instrument of God's personal providence for the objects of His care.—But if we pass to the author of the Essay on Man, the revolution which has given artistic precision to the form is not more observable than the indications of a philosophy which has chilled the spiritual faculties. The supernatural is gone. Nature is a vast machine which moves by fixed laws impressed upon it by a Creator. The soul feels chilled with the desolation of a universe wherein it cannot reach forth by prayer to a loving Father. Scripture is displaced by science. Doubt has passed into unbelief. The universe is viewed by the cold materialism which arraigns spiritual subjects at the bar of sense.—If now we turn to the work consecrated by the great living poet to the memory of his early friend, we find ourselves in contact with a meditative soul, separated from the age just named by a complete intellectual chasm; whose spiritual perceptions reflect a philosophy which expresses the sorrows and doubts of a cultivated mind of the present day, "perplext in faith but not in deeds."(94) The material has become transfigured into the spiritual. The objective has been replaced by the subjective. Nature is studied, as in Pope, without the assumption of a revelation; but it is no longer regarded as a machine conducted by material laws: it is a motive soul which embodies God's presence; a mystery to be felt, not understood. God is not afar off, so that we cannot reach Him: He is so nigh, that His omnipresence seems to obscure His personality.
These instances will illustrate the difference which philosophy produces in the classes of ideas in which the mind of an age is formed. In Milton, the appeal is made to the revelation of God in the Book; in Pope, to the revelation in Nature; in the living poet, to the revelation in man's soul, the type of the infinite Spirit and interpreter of God's universe and God's book.(95)
It is an analysis of a similar kind which we must conduct in reference to sceptical opinions. The influence of the first of the two classes of intellectual causes above named,(96) viz. the various forms of knowledge there described, could not exist unobserved, for they are present from time to time as rival doctrines in contest with Christianity; but the kind of influence of which we now treat, which relates to the grounds of belief on which a judgment is consciously or unconsciously formed, is more subtle, and requires analysis for its detection.
We must briefly explain its nature, and illustrate its influence on religion.
Metaphysical science is usually divided into two branches; of which one examines the objects known, the other the human mind, that is the organ of knowledge. (7) When Psychology has finished its study of the structure and functions of the mind, it supplies the means for drawing inferences in reply to a question which admits of a twofold aspect, viz. which of the mental faculties,—sense, reason, feeling, furnishes the origin of knowledge; and which is the supreme test of truth? These two questions form the subjective or Psychological branch of Metaphysics. According to the answer thus obtained we deduce a corollary in reference to the objective side. We ask what information is afforded by these mental faculties in respect to the nature or attributes of the objects known,—matter, mind, God, duty. The answer to this question is the branch commonly called the Ontological. The one inquiry treats of the tests of knowledge, the other of the nature of being. The combination of the two furnishes the answer on its two sides, internally and externally, to the question, What is truth?
The right application of them to the subject of religion would give a philosophy of religion; either objectively by the process of constructing a theodicee or theory to reconcile reason and faith; or subjectively, by separating their provinces by means of such an inquiry into the functions of the religious faculty, and the nature of the truths apprehended by it, as might furnish criteria to determine the amount that is to be appropriated respectively from our own consciousness and from external authority.
The influence of the Ontological branch of the inquiry in producing a struggle with Christianity, has been already included under the difficulties previously named, which are created by the growth of the various sciences.(97) It is the influence of the Psychological branch that we are now illustrating, by showing that the various theories in respect of it give their type to various forms of belief and doubt.
The well-known threefold distribution of the faculties that form the ultimate grounds of conviction will suffice for our purpose: viz., sensational consciousness revealing to us the world of matter; intuitive reason that of mind; and feeling that of emotion.(98) These are the forms of consciousness which supply the material from which the reflective powers draw inferences and construct systems.
It is easy to exhibit the mental character which each would have a tendency to generate when applied to a special subject like religion, natural or revealed.
If the eye of sense be the sole guide in looking around on nature, we discover only a universe of brute matter, phenomena linked together in uniform succession of antecedents and consequents. Mind becomes only a higher form of matter. Sin loses its poignancy. Immortality disappears. God exists not, except as a personification of the Cosmos. Materialism, atheism, fatalism, are the ultimate results which are proved by logic and history(99) to follow from this extreme view. The idea of spirit cannot be reached by it. For if some other form of experience than the sensitive be regarded as the origin of knowledge; if a nobler view be forced on us by the very inability even to express nature's phenomena without superadding spiritual qualities; if regularity of succession(100) suggest the idea of order and purpose and mind; if adaptation suggest the idea of morality; if movement suggest the idea of form and will; if will suggest the idea of personality; if the idea of the Cosmos suggest unity, and thus we mount up, step by step, to the conception of a God, possessing unity, intelligence, will, character, we really transfer into the sphere of nature ideas taken from another region of being, viz., from our consciousness of ourselves, our consciousness of spirit. It is mental association that links these ideas to those of sense, and gives to a sensational philosophy properties not its own. If however sensational experience can by any means arrive at the notion of natural religion; yet it will find a difficulty, created by its belief of the uniformity of nature, in taking the further step of admitting the miraculous interference which gives birth to revealed: and even if this difficulty should be surmounted, the disinclination to the supernatural would nevertheless have a tendency to obliterate mystery by empirical rationalism, and to reduce piety to morality, morality to expedience,(101) the church to a political institution, religion to a ritual system, and its evidence to external historic testimony.
The rival system of proof founded in intuitive consciousness is however not free from danger. A difference occurs, according as this endowment is regarded as merely revealing the facts of our own inner experience, or on the other hand as possessing a power to apprehend God positively, and spirit to spirit.(102) The result of the former belief would be indeed an ethical religion, compared with the political one just described. If it did not rise from the law to the law-giver, it would at least present morality as a law obligatory on man by his mental structure, independently of the consideration of reward and punishment. The ideas of God, duty, immortality, would be established as a necessity of thought, if not as matters of objective fact. Yet religion would be rather rational than supernatural; obedience to duty instead of communion with Deity; and unless the mind can find ground for a belief in God and the divine attributes through some other faculty, the idealism must destroy the evidence of revealed religion. Or at least, if the mind admit its truth, it must renounce the right to criticise the material of that which it confesses to be beyond the limits of its own consciousness; and thus, by abdicating its natural powers, blindly submit to external authority, and accept belief as the refuge from its own Pyrrhonism.
If, on the other hand, instead of regarding all attempts to pass beyond logical forms of thought to be mental impotence, the mind follows its own instincts, and, relying upon the same natural realism which justifies its belief in the immediate character of its sensitive perceptions, ventures to depend with equal firmness on the reality of its intuitional consciousness, religion, natural or revealed, wears another aspect; and both the advantages and the dangers of such a view are widely different.(103) The soul no longer regards the landscape to be a scene painted on the windows of its prison-house, a subjective limit to its perceptions, but not speculatively true; but it wanders forth from its cell unfettered into the universe around. God is no longer an inference from final causes, nor a principle of thought. He is the living God, a real personal spirit with whom the soul is permitted to hold direct communion. Providence becomes the act of a personal agent. Religion is the worship in spirit. Sin is seen in its heinousness. Prayer is justified as a reality, as the breathing of the human soul for communion with its infinite Parent (8). And by the light of this intuition, God, nature, and man, look changed. Nature is no longer a physical engine; man no longer a moral machine. Material nature becomes the regular expression of a personal fixed will; Miracle the direct interposition of a personal free will. Revelation is probable, as the voice of God's mercy to the child of His love. Inspiration becomes possible, for the intuitional consciousness seems adapted to be used by divine Providence as its instrument.(104)
But the type of mind created by the use of intuition as a test of truth is rarely alone. It is cognate to, if it is not connected with, that produced by the third of the above-named tests, feeling. The emotions, according to a law of spiritual supply and demand, suggest the reality of the objects toward which they are aspirations. The longing for help, the feeling of dependence, is the justification of prayer; the sense of remorse is the witness to divine judgment; the consciousness of penitence is the ground for hope in God's merciful interference; the ineradicable sense of guilt is the eternal witness to the need of atonement; the instinct for immortality is the pledge of a future life.
Yet the use of these tests of intuition and feeling in religion, though possessing these advantages, has dangers. If the feelings, instead of being used to reinforce or check the other faculties, be relied upon as sole arbiters; especially if they be linked with the imagination instead of the intuition; they may conduct to mysticism and superstition by the very vividness of their perception of the supernatural.(105) Likewise the intuitive faculty, if it be regarded as giving a noble grasp over the fact of God as an infinite Spirit, may cause the mind to relax its hold on the idea of the Divine Personality, and fall into Pantheism, and identify God with the universe, not by degrading spirit to matter, but by elevating matter to spirit.(106) Or, instead of allowing experience and revelation to develop into conceptions of the fundamental truth whose existence it perceives, it may attempt to develop a religion wholly a priori,(107) and assert its right to create as well as to verify. Also, when applying itself to revealed religion, this type of thought necessarily makes its last appeal to inward insight. It cannot, like sensationalism, or subjective idealism, admit its own impotence, and receive on authority a revelation, the contents of which it ventures not to criticise. It must always appropriate that which it is to believe. Accordingly it will have a tendency to render religion subjective in its character, uncertain in its doctrines, individual in its constitution.
These general remarks, every one of which admits of historic exemplification,(108) will suffice to illustrate the kind of influence exercised by these respective tests of truth in forming the judgment or moulding the character in relation to the belief or disbelief of natural and revealed religion. These effects are not adduced as the necessary results but as the ordinary tendencies of these respective theories. The mind frequently stops short of the conclusions logically deducible from its own principles. To measure precisely the effect of each view would be impossible. In mental science analysis must be qualitative, not quantitative.
It will hardly be expected that we should arbitrate among these theories, inasmuch as our purpose is not to test the comparative truthfulness of metaphysical opinions, but to refer sceptical opinions in religion to their true scientific and metaphysical parentage. Truth is probably to be found in a selection from all; and historical investigation is the chief means of discovering the mode of conducting the process. It is at least certain, that if history be the form which science necessarily takes in the study of that which is subject to laws of life and organic growth, it must be the preliminary inquiry in any investigation in reference to mental phenomena. The history of philosophy must be the approach to philosophy.(109) The great problem of philosophy is method; and if there be a hope that the true method can ever be found it must be by uniting the historical analysis of the development of the universal mind with the psychological analysis of the individual. The history of thought indicates not only fact but truth; not only shows what has been, but, by exhibiting the proportions which different faculties contribute toward the construction of truth, and indicating tendencies as well as results, prepares materials to be collated with the decision previously made by mental and moral science concerning the question of what ought to be (9).
A definite conviction on this metaphysical inquiry seems perhaps to be involved in the very idea of criticism, and necessary for drawing the moral from the history; yet the independence of our historical inquiry ought to be sacrificed as little as possible to illustrate a foregone conclusion. It will be more satisfactory to present the evidence for a verdict without undue advocacy of a side in the metaphysical controversy.(110)
The execution of this design of analysing the intellectual causes of unbelief will necessarily involve to some extent a biographical treatment of the subject, both for theoretical and practical reasons, to discover truth and to derive instruction. This is so evident in the history of action, that there is a danger at the present time lest history should lose the general in the individual, and descend from the rank of science to mere biography.(111) The deeper insight which is gradually obtained into the complexity of nature, together with the fuller conviction of human freedom, is causing artistic portraiture and ethical analysis to be substituted for historical generalization. The same method however applies to the region of thought as well as will.
Thought, as an intellectual product, can indeed be studied apart from the mind that creates it, and can be treated by history as a material fact subject to the fixed succession of natural laws. But the exclusive use of such a method, at least in any other subject of study than that of the results of physical discovery, must be defective, even independently of the question of the action of free will, unless the thoughts which are the object of study be also connected with the personality of the thinker who produces them. His external biography is generally unimportant, save when the individual character may have impressed itself upon public events; but the internal portraiture, the growth of soul as known by psychological analysis, is the very instrument for understanding the expression of it in life or in literature.(112) It is requisite to know the mental bias of a writer, whether it be practical, imaginative or reflective; to see the idola specus which influenced him, the action of circumstances upon his character, and the reaction of his character upon circumstances; before we can gain the clue to the interpretation of his works. But if we wish further to derive moral instruction from him, the biographical mode of study becomes even more necessary. For the notion of freedom as the ground of responsibility is now superadded; and the story of his life is the sole means for such an apprehension of the causes of his heart-struggles as shall enable us to take the gauge of his moral character, and appropriate the lessons derivable from the study of it.
Indeed biographical notices, if they could be extended compatibly with the compass of the subject, would be the most instructive and vivid mode of presenting alike the facts relating to scepticism and their interpretation. Such memoirs are not wanting, and are among the most touching in literature. The sketch which Strauss has given of his early friend and fellow student Maerklin,(113) gradually surrendering one cherished truth after another, until he doubted all but the law of conscience; then devoting himself in the strength of it with unflinching industry to education; until at last he died in the dark, without belief in God or hope, cheered only by the consciousness of having tried to find truth and do his duty:—the sad tale, told by two remarkable biographers, of Sterling,(114) doubting, renouncing the ministry, yet thirsting for truth, and at last solacing himself in death by the hopes offered by the Bible, to the eternal truths of which his doubting heart had always clung:—the memoir of the adopted son of our own university, Blanco White,(115) a mind in which faith and doubt were perpetually waging war, till the grave closed over his truth-searching and care-worn spirit:—the confessions of one of our own sons of the successive "phases of faith"(116) through which his soul passed from evangelical Christianity to a spiritual Deism, a record of heart-struggles which takes its place among the pathetic works of autobiography, where individuals have unveiled their inner life for the instruction of their fellow-men:—all these are instances where the great moral and spiritual problems that belong to the condition of our race may be seen embodied in the sorrowful experience of individuals. They are instances of rare value for psychological study in reference to the history of doubt; sad beacons of warning and of guidance. Accordingly, in the history of free thought we must not altogether neglect the spiritual biography of the doubter, though only able to indicate it by a few touches; by an etching, not a photograph.
We have now added to the explanation before given of the province of our inquiry, and of the law of the action of free thought on religion, an account of the moral and intellectual causes which operate in the history of unbelief, and have sufficiently explained the mode in which the subject will be treated.
The use of the inquiry will, it is hoped, be apparent both in its theoretical and practical relations. It is designed to have an intellectual value not only as instruction but as argument. The tendency of it will be in some degree polemical as well as didactic, refuting error by analysing it into its causes, repelling present attacks by studying the history of former ones.
It is one peculiar advantage belonging to the philosophical investigation of the history of thought, that even the odious becomes valuable as an object of study, the pathology of the soul as well as its normal action. Philosophy takes cognisance of error as well as of truth, inasmuch as it derives materials from both for discovering a theory of the grounds of belief and disbelief. Hence it follows that the study of the natural history of doubt combined with the literary, if it be the means of affording an explanation of a large class of facts relating to the religious history of man and the sphere of the remedial operations of Christ's church, will have a practical value as well as speculative.
Such an inquiry, if it be directed, as in the present lectures, to the analysis of the intellectual rather than the emotional element of unbelief, as being that which has been less generally and less fully explored, will require to be supplemented by a constant reference to the intermixture of the other element, and the consequent necessity of taking account of the latter in estimating the whole phenomenon of doubt. But within its own sphere it will have a practical and polemical value, if the course of the investigation shall show that the various forms of unbelief, when studied from the intellectual side, are corollaries from certain metaphysical or critical systems. The analysis itself will have indirectly the force of an argument. The discovery of the causes of a disease contains the germ of the cure. Error is refuted when it is referred to the causes which produce it.
Nor will the practical value of the inquiry be restricted to its use as a page in the spiritual history of the human mind, but will belong to it also as a chapter in the history of the church. For even if in the study of the contest our attention be almost wholly restricted to the movements of one of the two belligerents, and only occasionally directed to the evidences on which the faith of the church in various crises reposed, and by which it tried to repel the invader, yet the knowledge of the scheme of attack cannot fail to be a valuable accompaniment to the study of the defence.(117)
Thus the natural history of doubt, viewed as a chapter of human history, like the chapter of physiology which studies a disease, will point indirectly to the cure, or at least to the mode of avoiding the causes which induce the disease; while the literary history of it, viewed as a chapter of church history, will contribute the results of experience to train the Christian combatant.
The subject will however not only have an intellectual value in being at once didactic and polemical, offering an explanation of the causes of unbelief and furnishing hints for their removal; but it cannot fail also to possess a moral value in reference to the conscience and heart of the disputant, in teaching the lesson of mercy towards the unbeliever, and deep pity for the heart wounded with doubts. An intelligent acquaintance with the many phases of history operates like foreign travel in widening the sympathies; and increase of knowledge creates the moderation which gains the victory through attracting an enemy instead of repelling him. Bigotry is founded on ignorance and fear. True learning is temperate, because discriminating; forbearing, because courageous. If we place ourselves in the position of an opponent, and try candidly to understand the process by which he was led to form his opinions, indignation will subside into pity, and enmity into grief: the hatred will be reserved for the sin, not for the sinner; and the servant of Jesus Christ will thus catch in some humble measure the forbearing love which his divine Master showed to the first doubting disciple.(118) As the sight of suffering in an enemy changes the feeling of anger into pity, so the study of a series of spiritual struggles makes us see in an opponent, not an enemy to be crushed, but a brother to be won. The utility of a historic treatment of doubt is suggested by moral as well as intellectual grounds.
I hope therefore that if I follow the example of some of my predecessors,(119) in giving a course of lectures historical rather than polemical, evincing the critic rather than the advocate, seeking for truth rather than victory, analysing processes of evidence rather than refuting results, my humble contribution toward the knowledge of the argument of the Christian evidences will be considered to come fairly within the design intended by the founder of the lecture.
It may well be believed that in the execution of so large a scheme I have felt almost overwhelmed under a painful sense of its difficulty. If even I may venture to hope that a conscientious study in most cases of the original sources of information may save me from literary mistakes, yet there is a danger lest the size of the subject should preclude the possibility of constant clearness; or lest the very analysis of the errors of the systems named, may produce a painful, if not an injurious, impression. In an age too of controversy, those who speak on difficult questions incur a new danger, of being misunderstood from the sensitiveness with which earnest men not unreasonably watch them. The attitude of suspicion may cause impartiality to be regarded as indifference to truth, fairness as sympathy with error. I am not ashamed therefore to confess, that under the oppressive sense of these various feelings I have been wont to go for help to the only source where the burdened heart can find consolation; and have sought, in the communion with the Father of spirits which prayer opens to the humblest, a temper of candour, of reverence, and of the love of truth. In this spirit I have made my studies; and what I have thus learned I shall teach.
LECTURE II. THE LITERARY OPPOSITION OF HEATHENS AGAINST CHRISTIANITY IN THE EARLY AGES.
1 COR. i. 22-24.
The Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified; unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, Christ the wisdom of God.
It has been already stated(120), that in the first great struggle of the human mind against the Christian religion the action of reason in criticising its claims assumed two forms, Gnosticism or rationalism within the church, and unbelief without.
The origin and history of the former of these two lines of thought were once discussed in an elaborate course of Bampton Lectures;(121) and though subsequent investigation has added new sources of information,(122) and it would be consonant to our general object to trace briefly the speculations of the various schools of Gnostics,—Greek, Oriental, or Egyptian,—the want of space necessitates the omission of these topics. In the present lecture we shall accordingly restrict ourselves to the history of the other line of thought, and trace the grounds alleged by the intelligent heathens who examined Christianity, for declining to admit its claims, from the time of its rise to the final downfall of heathenism.
The truest modern resemblance to this struggle is obviously to be found in the disbelief shown by educated heathens in pagan countries to whom Christianity is proclaimed in the present day. It was not until the establishment of Christianity as the state religion by Constantine had given it political and moral victory, that it was possible for unbelief to assume its modern aspect, of being the attempt of reason to break away from a creed which is an acknowledged part of the national life. The first opponents accordingly whose views we shall study, Lucian, Celsus, Porphyry, Hierocles, are heathen unbelievers. Julian is the earliest that we encounter who rejected Christianity after having been educated in it.
The resemblance however to this struggle is not wholly restricted to heathen lands. There have been moments in the history of nations, or of individuals, when a Christian standard of feeling or of thought has been so far obliterated that a state of public disbelief and philosophical attack similar to the ancient heathen has reappeared, and the tone of the early unbelievers, and sometimes even their specific doubts, have been either borrowed or reproduced.(123)
In this portion of the history we encounter a difficulty peculiar to it, in being compelled to form an estimate of the opinions described, from indirect information. The treatises of the more noted writers that opposed Christianity have perished; some through natural causes, but those of Porphyry and Julian through the special order of a Christian emperor, Theodosius II., in A.D. 435.
In the absence accordingly of the original writings, we must discover the grounds for the rejection of Christianity by the aid of the particular treatises of evidence written by Christian fathers expressly in refutation of them, which occasionally contain quotations of the lost works; and also by means of the general apologies written on behalf of the Christian religion, together with slight notices of it occurring in heathen literature. The latter will inform us concerning the miscellaneous objections current, the former concerning the definite arguments of the writers who expressly gave reasons for disbelieving Christianity.(124)
We possess a large treatise of Origen against Celsus; passages, directed against Porphyry, of Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustin; a tract of Eusebius against Hierocles; and a work of Cyril of Alexandria against Julian. Yet it is never perfectly satisfactory to be obliged to read an opinion through the statement of an opponent of it. The history of philosophical controversy shows that intellectual causes, such as the natural tendency to answer an argument on principles that its author would not concede, to reply to conclusions instead of premises, or to impute the corollaries which are supposed to be deducible from an opinion, may lead to unintentional misrepresentation of a doctrine refuted, even where no moral causes such as bias or sarcasm contribute to the result. Aristotle's well-known criticism of Plato's theory of archetypes is a pertinent illustration.(125)
The slight difficulty thus encountered, in extracting the real opinions of the early unbelievers out of the replies of their Christian opponents, may for the most part be avoided by first realising the state of belief which existed in reference to the heathen religion, which for our present purpose may be treated as homogeneous throughout the whole Roman world. We shall thus be enabled as it were to foresee the line of opinion which would be likely to be adopted in reference to a new religion coming with the claims and character of Christianity. This prefatory inquiry will also coincide with our general purpose of analysing the influence of intellectual causes in the production of unbelief.
Four separate tendencies may be distinguished among heathens in the early centuries in reference to religion:(126) viz. the tendency, (1) to absolute unbelief, (2) to a bigoted attachment to a national creed, (3) to a philosophical, and (4) a mystical theory of religion.
The tendency to total disbelief of the supernatural prevailed in the Epicurean school. A type of the more earnest spirits of this class is seen at a period a little earlier than the Christian era in Lucretius, living mournfully in the moral desert which his doubts had scorched into barrenness.(127) The world is to him a scene unguided by a Providence: death is uncheered by the hope of a future life. An example of the flippant sceptic is found in Lucian in the second century, A.D. The great knowledge of life which travel had afforded him created a universal ridicule for religion; but his unbelief evinced no seriousness, no sadness. His humour itself is a type of the man. Lacking the bitter earnestness which gave sting to the wit of Aristophanes, and the courteous playfulness exhibited in the many-sided genius of Plato, he was a caricaturist rather than a painter: his dialogues are farces of life rather than satires. It has been well remarked, that human society has no worse foe than a universal scoffer. Lacking aspirations sufficiently lofty to appreciate religion, and wisdom to understand the great crises that give birth to it, such a man destroys not superstition only but the very faculty of belief.(128) It is easy to perceive that to such minds Christianity would be a mark for the same jests as other creeds.
A second tendency, most widely opposed in appearance to the sceptical, but which was too often its natural product, showed itself in a bigoted attachment to the national religion.(129) Among the masses such faith was real though unintelligent, but in educated men it had become artificial. When an ethnic religion is young, faith is fresh and gives inspiration to its art and its poetry. In a more critical age, the historic spirit rationalizes the legends, while the philosophic allegorizes the myths; and thoughtful men attempt to rise to a spiritual worship of which rites are symbols.(130) But in the decay of a religion, the supernatural loses its hold of the class of educated minds, and is regarded as imposture, and the support which they lend to worship is political. They fall back on tradition to escape their doubts, or they think it politically expedient to enforce on the masses a creed which they contemn in heart. Such a ground of attachment to paganism is described in the dialogue of the Christian apologist, Minucius Felix.(131) It would not only coincide with the first-named tendency in denying the importance of Christianity, but would join in active opposition. In truth, it marks the commencement of the strong reaction which took place in favour of heathenism at the close of the second century,—twofold in its nature; a popular reaction of prejudice or of mysticism on the part of the lower classes, and a political or philosophical one of the educated.(132) Both were in a great degree produced by Eastern influences. The substitution which was gradually taking place of naturalism for humanism, the adoration of cosmical and mystical powers instead of the human attributes of the deities of the older creed, was the means of re-awakening popular superstition, while at the same time the Alexandrian speculations of Neo-Platonism gave a religious aspect to philosophy.
Accordingly the third, or philosophical tendency in reference to religion, distinct from the two already named, of positive unbelief in the supernatural on the one hand, and devotion sincere or artificial to heathen worship on the other, comprises, in addition to the older schools of Stoics and Platonists, the new eclectic school just spoken of. The three schools agreed in extracting a philosophy out of the popular religion, by searching for historic or moral truth veiled in its symbols. The Stoic, as being the least speculative, employed itself less with religion than the others. Its doctrine, ethical rather than metaphysical, concerned with the will rather than the intellect, juridical and formal rather than speculative, seemed especially to give expression to the Roman character, as the Platonic to the Greek, or as the eclectic to the hybrid, half Oriental half European, which marked Alexandria. In the writings of M. Aurelius, one of the emperors most noted for the persecution of the church, it manifests itself rather as a rule of life than a subject for belief, as morality rather than religion.(133) The Stoic opposition to Christianity was the contempt of the Gaul or Roman for what was foreign, or of ethical philosophy for religion.
The Platonic doctrine, so far as it is represented in an impure form in the early centuries, sought, as of old, to explore the connexion between the visible and invisible worlds, and to rise above the phenomenon into the spiritual. Hence in its view of heathen religion it strove to rescue the ideal religion from the actual, and to discover the one revelation of the Divine ideal amid the great variety of religious traditions and modes of worship. But its invincible dualism, separating by an impassable chasm God from the world, and mind from matter, identifying goodness with the one, evil with the other, prevented belief in a religion like Christianity, which was penetrated by the Hebrew conceptions of the universe, so alien both to dualism and pantheism.
The line is not very marked which separates this philosophy from the professed revival of Plato's teaching, which received the name of Neo-Platonism, which was the philosophy with which Christianity came most frequently into conflict or contact during the third and two following centuries (10). Fastening on the more mystical parts of Plato, to the neglect of the more practical, it probably borrowed something also from Eastern mysticism. The object of the school was to find an explanation of the problem of existence, by tracing the evolution of the absolute cause in the universe through a trinal manifestation, as being, thought, and action. The agency by which the human mind apprehended this process lay in the attainment of a kind of insight wherein the organ of knowledge is one with the object known, a state of mind and feeling whereby the mind gazes on a sphere of being which is closed to the ordinary faculties. Schelling's theory of "intellectual intuition" is the modern parallel to this Neo-Platonic State of ἔκστασις or ἐνθουσιασμός. This philosophy, though frequently described in modern times as bearing a resemblance to Christianity in method, as being the knowledge of the one absolute Being by means of faith, is really most widely opposed in its interior spirit. It is essentially pantheism. Its monotheistic aspect, caught by contact with Semitic thought, is exterior only. Its deity, which seems personal, is really only the personification of an abstraction, a mere instance of mental realism. Man's personality, which Christianity states clearly, was lost in the universe; religious facts in metaphysical ideas.(134) Religion accordingly would be exclusive, confined to an aristocracy of education; and the existing national cultus would be appropriated as a sensuous religion suited for the masses, a visible type of the invisible. The analogy which this philosophy bore to Christianity in aim and office, as well as the rivalry of other schools which is implied in its eclectic aspect, caused it to take up an attitude of opposition to the Christian system to which it claimed to bear affinity.
The mystical element in this philosophy enabled some minds to find a home for the theurgy which had been increased by the importation of eastern ideas.(135) They form as it were the connecting link with the fourth religious tendency, which manifested itself in the craving for a communication from the world invisible, which found its satisfaction in magic and in a spirit of fanaticism. Some of these fanatics were doubtless also impostors;(136) but some were high-minded men struggling after truth, of whom possibly an example is seen at an early period in Apollonius of Tyana; deceived rather than deceivers. This tendency operated in some minds to cause them to reduce Christianity to ordinary magic and prodigies; while among a few it created yearnings for a nobler satisfaction, which drew them toward Christianity, as in the case of the Clemens, whose autobiography professes to be given in the well-known work of the early ages, the Clementines. (11)
Such seem to have been the chief forms of religious thought existing among the heathen to whom Christianity presented itself, on which were founded the preparation of heart which led to the acceptance of its message, or the prejudices which rejected its claims;—viz. among the masses, a sensuous unintelligent belief in polytheism;—among the educated, disorganization of belief; either materialism, the total rejection of the supernatural, and a political attachment on the principle of expedience to existing creeds; or philosophy, ethical, dualistic, pantheistic, despising religions as mere organic products of national thought, and trying to seize the central truths of which they were the expression; or a mystical craving after the supernatural, degrading its victims into fanatics. The further analysis of these tendencies would show their connexion with the threefold classification before given of the tests of truth into sense, reason, and feeling.
We have thus prepared the way for interpreting the lines of argument used in opposition to Christianity, and shall now proceed to sketch in chronological succession the history of the chief intellectual attacks made by unbelievers.
It is not until the middle of the second century that we find Christianity becoming the subject of literary investigation. Incidental expressions either of scorn or of misapprehension form the sole allusions in the heathen writers of earlier date (12); but in the reigns of the Antonines, the Christians began to attract notice and to meet with criticism. We read of a work written against Christianity by a Cynic, Crescens, in the reign of Antoninus Pius;(137) and of another by the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, Fronto of Cirta,(138) in which probably the imperial persecution was justified.
It is at this time too that we meet with an attempt to hold the Christians up to ridicule in a satire of Lucian,(139) which well exemplifies the views belonging to the sceptical of the four classes into which we have divided the religious opinions of the heathens. His tract, the Peregrinus Proteus, it can hardly be doubted, is intended as a satire on Christian martyrdom (13). Peregrinus(140) is a Cynic philosopher, who after a life of early villainy is made by Lucian to play the hypocrite at Antioch and join himself to the Christians, "miserable men" (as he calls them), "who, hoping for immortality in soul and body, had a foolish contempt of death, and suffered themselves to be persuaded that they were brethren, because, having abandoned the Greek gods, they worshipped the crucified sophist, living according to his laws."(141) Peregrinus, when a Christian, soon rises to the dignity of bishop, and is worshipped as a god; and when imprisoned for his religion is visited by Christians from all quarters. Afterwards, expelled the church, he travels over the world; and at last for the sake of glory burns himself publicly at Olympia about A.D. 165. His end is described in a tragico-comic manner, and a legend is recounted that at his death he was seen in white, and that a hawk ascended from his pyre.
Lucian has here used a real name to describe a class, not a person. He has given a caricature painting from historic elements. There seems internal evidence to show that he was slightly acquainted with the books of the early Christians.(142) It has even been conjectured that he might have read and designed to parody the epistles of Ignatius.(143) With more probability we may believe that he had heard of and misunderstood the heroic bearing of the Christian martyrs in the moment of their last suffering. Pope Alexander VII. in 1664 placed this tract in the index of prohibited books: yet even beneath the satire we rather hail Lucian as an unconscious witness to several beautiful features in the character of the Christians of his time:(144) viz. their worship of "the crucified sophist," who was their adorable Lord; their guilelessness; their brotherly love; their strict discipline; their common meals; their union; their benevolence; their joy in death. The points which he depicts in his satire are, their credulity in giving way to Peregrinus; their unintelligent belief in Christ and in immortality; their factiousness in aiding Peregrinus when in prison; their pompous vanity in martyrdom, and possibly their tendency to believe legends respecting a martyr's death. His satire is contempt, not anger, nor dread. It is the humour of a thorough sceptic, which discharged itself on all religions alike; and indicates one type of opposition to Christianity; viz. the contempt of those who thought it folly.
Very unlike to him was his well-known contemporary Celsus. If the one represents the scoffer, the other represents the philosopher. Not despising Christianity with scorn like Tacitus, nor jeering at it with humour like Lucian, Celsus had the wisdom to apprehend danger to heathenism, measuring Christianity in its mental and not its material relations; and about the reign of Marcus Aurelius wrote against it a work entitled Λόγος ἀληθής, which was considered of such importance, that Origen towards the close of his own life(145) wrote a large and elaborate reply to it.
We know nothing of Celsus's life.(146) There is even an uncertainty as to the school of philosophy to which he belonged. External evidence seems to testify that he was an Epicurean; but internal would lead us to classify him with the Platonic. Unscrupulous in argument, confounding canonical gospels with apocryphal, and Christians with heretical sects, delighting in searching for contradictions, incapable of understanding the deeper aspects of Christianity, he has united in his attack all known objections, making use of minute criticism, philosophical theory, piquant sarcasm, and eloquent invective, as the vehicle of his passionate assault.
It is impossible to recover a continuous account of the work of Celsus from the treatise of his respondent; but a careful study of the fragments embedded in the text of Origen will perhaps restore the framework of the original sufficiently to enable us to perceive the points of his opposition to Christianity, and the manner in which his philosophy stood in the way of the reception of it. (14)
Celsus commences by introducing a Jewish rabbi to attack Christianity from the monotheistic stand-point of the earlier faith.(147) The Jew is first made to direct his criticism against the documents of Christianity, and then the facts narrated.(148) He points out inconsistencies in the gospel narratives of the genealogy of Christ;(149) utters the most blasphemous calumnies concerning the incarnation;(150) turns the narrative of the infancy into ridicule;(151) imputes our Saviour's miracles to magic;(152) attacks his divinity;(153) and concentrates the bitterest raillery on the affecting narrative of our blessed Lord's most holy passion. Each fact of deepening sorrow in that divine tragedy, the betrayal,(154) the mental anguish, the sacred agony,(155) is made the subject of remarks characterized no less by coarseness of taste and unfairness, than to the Christian mind by irreverence. Instead of his heart being touched by the majesty of our Saviour's sorrow, Celsus only finds an argument against the divine character of the adorable sufferer.(156) The wonders accompanying Christ's death are treated as legends;(157) the resurrection regarded as an invention or an optical delusion.(158)
After Celsus has thus made the Jew the means of a ruthless attack on Christianity, he himself directs a similar one against the Jewish religion itself.(159) He goes to the origin of their history; describes the Jews as having left Egypt in a sedition;(160) as being true types of the Christians in their ancient factiousness;(161) considers Moses to be only on a level with the early Greek legislators;(162) regards Jewish rites like circumcision to be borrowed from Egypt; charges anthropomorphism on Jewish theology,(163) and declines allowing the allegorical interpretation in explanation of it;(164) examines Jewish prophecy, parallels it with heathen oracles,(165) and claims that the goodness not the truth of a prophecy ought to be considered;(166) points to the ancient idolatry of the Jews as proof that they were not better than other nations;(167) and to the destruction of Jerusalem as proof that they were not special favourites of heaven. At last he arrives at their idea of creation,(168) and here reveals the real ground of his antipathy. While he objects to details in the narrative, such as the mention of days before the existence of the sun,(169) his real hatred is against the idea of the unity of God, and the freedom of Deity in the act of creation. It is the struggle of pantheism against theism.
When Celsus has thus made use of the Jew to refute Christianity from the Jewish stand-point, and afterwards refuted the Jew from his own, he proceeds to make his own attack on Christianity; in doing which, he first examines the lives of Christians,(170) and afterwards the Christian doctrine;(171) thus skilfully prejudicing the mind of his readers against the persons before attacking the doctrines. He alludes to the quarrelsomeness shown in the various sects of Christians,(172) and repeats the calumnious suspicion of disloyalty,(173) want of patriotism,(174) and political uselessness;(175) and hence defends the public persecution of them.(176) Filled with the esoteric pride of ancient philosophy, he reproaches the Christians with their carefulness to proselytize the poor,(177) and to convert the vicious;(178) thus unconsciously giving a noble testimony to one of the most divine features in our religion, and testifying to the preaching of the doctrine of a Saviour for sinners.
Having thus defamed the Christians, he passes to the examination of the Christian doctrine, in its form, its method, and its substance. His aesthetic sense, ruined with the idolatry of form, and unable to appreciate the thought, regards the Gospels as defective and rude through simplicity.(179) The method of Christian teaching also seems to him to be defective, as lacking philosophy and dialectic, and as denouncing the use of reason.(180) Lastly, he turns to the substance of the dogmas themselves. He distinguishes two elements in them, the one of which, as bearing resemblance to philosophy or to heathen religion, he regards as incontestably true, but denies its originality, and endeavours to derive it from Persia or from Platonism;(181) resolving, for example, the worship of a human being into the ordinary phenomenon of apotheosis.(182) The other class of doctrines which he attacks as false, consists of those which relate to creation,(183) the incarnation,(184) the fall,(185) redemption,(186) man's place in creation,(187) moral conversions,(188) and the resurrection of the dead.(189) His point of view for criticising them is derived from the fundamental dualism of the Platonic system; the eternal severance of matter and mind, of God and the world; and the reference of good to the region of mind, evil to that of matter. Thus, not content with his former attack on the idea of creation in discussion with the Jew, he returns to the discussion from the philosophical side. His Platonism will not allow him to admit that the absolute God, the first Cause, can have any contact with matter. It leads him also to give importance to the idea of δαίμονες, or divine mediators, by which the chasm is filled between the ideal god and the world;(190) not being able otherwise to imagine the action of the pure ἰδέα of God on a world of matter. Hence he blames Christians for attributing an evil nature to demons, and finds a reasonable interpretation of the heathen worship.(191) The same dualist theory extinguishes the idea of the incarnation, as a degradation of God; and also the doctrine of the fall, inasmuch as psychological deterioration is impossible if the soul be pure, and if evil be a necessary attribute of matter.(192) With the fall, redemption also disappears, because the perfect cannot admit of change; Christ's coming could only be to correct what God already knew, or rectify what ought to have been corrected before.(193) Further, Celsus argues, if Divinity did descend, that it would not assume so lowly a form as Jesus. The same rigorous logic charges on Christianity the undue elevation of man, as well as the abasement of God. Celsus can neither admit man more than the brutes to be the final cause of the universe; nor allow the possibility of man's nearness to God.(194) His pantheism, destroying the barrier which separates the material from the moral, obliterates the perception of the fact that a single free responsible being may be of more dignity than the universe.
Such is the type of a philosophical objector against Christianity, a little later than the middle of the second century. We meet here for the first time a remarkable effort of pagan thought, endeavouring to extinguish the new religion; the definite statements of a mind that investigated its claims and rejected it. Most of the objections of Celsus are sophistical; a few are admitted difficulties; but the philosophical class of them will be seen to be the corollary from his general principle before explained.
A century intervenes before we meet with the next literary assailant, Porphyry. In the interval the new reactionary philosophy has fully taken root, and the fresh attack accordingly bears the impress of the new system.
The chief objections made in the intervening period, as we collect them from the apologies, were such as belongs fitly to a transitional time, when Christianity was exciting attention but was not understood;(195) and are chiefly the result of the second of the tendencies before named, viz., either of popular prejudice, or of the political alarm in reference to the social disorganization likely to arise out of a large defection from the religion of the empire, which expressed itself in overt acts of persecution on the part of the state. (15) Both equally lie beyond our field of investigation; the one because it does not belong to the examination of Christianity made by intelligent thought; the other because it is the struggle of deeds, not of ideas, which only have an interest for us, if, as in Julian's case hereafter, the acts were dictated by the deliberate advice of persons who had attentively examined Christianity.
The apprehensions of prejudice gradually subsided, and objections began to be based on grounds less absurd in character. The political opposition also was henceforth founded on a more subtle policy, and on an appreciation of the nature of Christianity. Soon after the middle of the third century we meet with the next attack of a purely literary kind, viz., by Porphyry, the most distinguished opponent that Christianity has yet encountered.(196) The pupil of Longinus, perhaps of Origen,(197) and the biographer and interpreter of Plotinus, he is best known for his logical writings, and for the development of the theory of predication in his introduction to the Categories, which formed the text on which hung the mediaeval speculations of scholasticism.(198) His Syrian origin and oriental culture perhaps prepared him for a fusion of East and West, and for admitting a deeper admixture of mysticism into the Neo-Platonic philosophy, of which he was a disciple. The points of his approximation to Christianity are the result of those elements in which heathen philosophy most nearly approached to Christian truth, the development of which was stimulated in minds essentially anti-christian by the effort to find a rival to it. Admirably prepared by his serious and spiritual tone to embrace Christianity, he nevertheless lived a disciple of paganism. His feelings rather than his reason led him to defend national creeds. His philosophy and the Christian, which seemed to be aspirations after the same end, being designed to elevate the spirit above the world of sense, were really radically opposed. Understanding therefore the power of the Christian religion, he felt the necessity for supplanting it; and hoped to do so by spiritualizing the old creeds, which he harmonized with philosophy by means of regarding them as symbolic.(199)
His opposition to Christianity was not however based wholly on a prejudice of feeling. He was a man cultivated in all the learning of his age, and of a more generous temper than Celsus, and seems to have exercised much critical sagacity in the investigation of the claims of Christianity. About the year 270, while in retirement in Sicily, he wrote a book against the Christians.(200) This work having been destroyed, we are left to gather its contents and the opinions of its authors from a few criticisms in Eusebius and Jerome. The entire work consisted of fifteen books; and concerning only five of these is information afforded by them. Their remarks lead us to conjecture that it was an assault on Christianity in many relations. The books however of which we know the purpose, seem to have been critical rather than philosophical, directed against the grounds of the religion rather than its character; being in fact an assault on the Bible. The existence of such a line of argument, of which a trace was already observable in Celsus, is explained by the circumstance that the faith of Christendom was already fixed on the authority of the sacred books. The church had always acknowledged the authority of the Jewish scriptures; and by the middle or close of the second century at the latest, it had come to acknowledge explicitly the co-ordinate authority of a body of Christian literature, historic, and epistolary.(201) Hence, when once the idea of a rule of faith had grown common, the investigation of the contents of the scriptures became necessary on the part of heathen opponents. The growingly critical character of Porphyry's statements, though partly attributable to the literary culture of his mind, is a slight undesigned evidence corroborative of the authoritative nature already attributed to the scriptures in doctrine and truthfulness. Porphyry seems accordingly to have directed his critical powers to show such traces of mistakes and incorrectness as might invalidate the idea of a supernatural origin for the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and shake confidence in their truth as an authority.
The first book of his work(202) dragged to light some of the discrepancies, real or supposed, in scripture; and the examination of the dispute between St. Peter and St. Paul was quoted as an instance of the admixture of human ingredients in the body of apostolic teaching. His third book(203) was directed to the subject of scripture interpretation, especially, with some inconsistency, against the allegorical or mystical tendency which at that time marked the whole church, and especially the Alexandrian fathers. The allegorical method coincided with, if it did not arise from, the oriental instinct of symbolism, the natural poetry of the human mind. But in the minds of Jews and Christians it had been sanctified by its use in the Hebrew religion, and had become associated with the apocryphal literature of the Jewish church. It is traceable to a more limited extent in the inspired writers of the New Testament, and in most of the fathers; but in the school of Alexandria(204) it was adopted as a formal system of interpretation. It is this allegorical system which Porphyry attacked. He assaulted the writings of those who had fancifully allegorised the Old Testament in the pious desire of finding Christianity in every part of it, in spite of historic conditions; and he hastily drew the inference, with something like the feeling of doubt which rash interpretations of prophecy are in danger of producing at this day, that no consistent sense can be put upon the Old Testament. His fourth book(205) was a criticism on the Mosaic history, and on Jewish antiquities. But the most important books in his work were the twelfth(206) and thirteenth,(207) which were devoted to an examination of the prophecies of Daniel, in which he detected some of those peculiarities on which modern criticism has employed itself, and arrived at the conclusions in reference to its date, revived by the English deist Collins in the last century, and by many German critics in the present.
It is well known that half of the book of Daniel(208) is historic, half prophetic. Each of these parts is distinguished from similar portions of the Old Testament by some peculiarities. Porphyry is not recorded as noticing any of those which belong to the historic part, unless we may conjecture, from his theory of the book being originally written in Greek, that he detected the presence of those Greek words in Nebuchadnezzar's edicts, which many modern critics have contended could not be introduced into Chaldaea antecedently to the Macedonian conquest.(209) The peculiarity alleged to belong to the prophetical part is its apocalyptic tone. It looks, it has been said, historical rather than prophetical. Definite events, and a chain of definite events, are predicted with the precision of historical narrative;(210) whereas most prophecy is a moral sermon, in which general moral predictions are given, with specific historic ones interspersed. Nor is this, which is shared in a less degree by occasional prophecies elsewhere, the only peculiarity alleged, but it is affirmed also that the definite character ceases at a particular period of the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes,(211) down to which the very campaigns of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties are noted, but subsequently to which the prophetic tone becomes more vague and indefinite. Hence the conjecture has been hazarded that it was written in the reign of Antiochus by a Palestinian Jew, who gathered up the traditions of Daniel's life, and wrote the recent history of his country in eloquent language, in an apocalyptic form; which, after the literary fashion of his age, he imputed to an ancient seer, Daniel; definite up to the period at which he composed it, indefinite as he gazed on the future. (16) It was this peculiarity, the supposed ceasing of the prophecies in the book of Daniel at a definite date, which was noticed by Porphyry, and led him to suggest the theory of its authorship just named.(212) These remarks will give an idea of the critical acuteness of Porphyry. His objections are not, it will be observed, founded on quibbles like those of Celsus, but on instructive literary characteristics, many of which are greatly exaggerated or grossly misinterpreted, but still are real, and suggest difficulties or inquiries which the best modern theological critics have honourably felt to demand candid examination and explanation.(213)
A period of about thirty years brings us to the date of the Diocletian persecution, A.D. 303; during the progress of which another noted attack was made. It was by Hierocles, then president of Bithynia, and afterwards praefect of Alexandria, himself one of the instigators of the persecution and an agent in effecting it.(214) His line of argument was more specific than those previously named, being directed against the evidence which was derived by Christians for the truth of their religion from the character and miraculous works of Christ; and his aim accordingly was to develope the character of Apollonius of Tyana,(215) as a rival to our Saviour in piety and miraculous power.
Apollonius was a Pythagorean philosopher, born in Cappadocia about four years before the Christian era. After being early educated in the circle of philosophy, and in the practice of the ascetic discipline of his predecessor Pythagoras, he imitated that philosopher in spending the next portion of his life in travel. Attracted by his mysticism to the farthest East as the source of knowledge, he set out for Persia and India; and in Nineveh on his route met Damis, the future chronicler of his actions. Returning from the East instructed in Brahminic lore, he travelled over the Roman world. The remainder of his days was spent in Asia Minor. Statues and temples were erected to his honour. He obtained vast influence, and died with the reputation of sanctity late in the century. Such is the outline of his life, if we omit the numerous legends and prodigies which attach themselves to his name. He was partly a philosopher, partly a magician; half mystic, half impostor.(216) At the distance of a century and a quarter from his death, in the reign of Septimius Severus, at the request of the wife of that emperor, the second of the three Philostrati dressed up Damis's narrative of his life, in a work still remaining, and paved a way for the general reception of the story among the cultivated classes of Rome and Greece.(217) It has been thought that Philostratus had a polemical aim against the Christian faith,(218) as the memoir of Apollonius is in so many points a parody on the life of Christ. The annunciation of his birth to his mother, the chorus of swans which sang for joy on occasion of it, the casting out devils, the raising the dead, the healing the sick, the sudden disappearance and reappearance of Apollonius, the sacred voice which called him at his death, and his claim to be a teacher with authority to reform the world, form some of the points of similarity.
If such was the intention of Philostratus, he was really a controversialist under the form of a writer of romance; employed by those who at that time were labouring (as already named) to introduce an eclecticism largely borrowed from the East into the region both of philosophy and religion. Without settling this question, it is at least certain that about the beginning of the next century the heathen writers adopted this line of argument, and sought to exhibit a rival ideal.(219) One instance is the life of Pythagoras by Iamblichus; another that which Hierocles wrote, in part of which he used Philostratus's untrustworthy memoir for the purpose of instituting a comparison between Apollonius and Christ. The sceptic who referred religious phenomena to fanaticism would hence avail himself of the comparison as a satisfactory account of the origin of Christianity; while others would adopt the same view as Hierocles, and deprive the Christian miracles of the force of evidence,—a line of argument which was reproduced by an English deist(220) who translated the work of Philostratus at the end of the seventeenth century. The work of Hierocles is lost, but an outline of its argument, with extracts, remains in a reply which Eusebius wrote to a portion of it (17). Though couched in a seeming spirit of fairness, the tone was such as would be expected from one who ungenerously availed himself of the very moment of a cruel persecution as the occasion of this literary attack.
But the time of the church's sorrow was nearly past. The hour of deliverance was at hand. The emperor Constantine proclaimed toleration,(221) and subsequently established Christianity as the state-religion. Only one moment more of peril was permitted to befall it.
After an interval in which Christian emperors reigned, Julian ascended the throne, and employed his short reign of two years(222) in trying to restore heathenism; and during the last winter of his life, while halting at Antioch in the course of his Eastern war, wrote an elaborate work against Christianity.(223) The book itself has been destroyed, but the reply remains which Cyril of Alexandria thought it necessary to write more than half a century afterwards; and by this means we can gather Julian's opinions, just as from his own letters and the contemporary history we can gather his plans. The material struggle of deeds belongs in this instance to our subject, inasmuch as it is the overt expression of the struggle of ideas.
Julian, as already observed, differed from previous opponents of Christianity, in having been educated a Christian.(224) Associating when a student at the schools of Athens with Gregory of Nazianzum and Basil, he had every opportunity for understanding the Christian religion and measuring its claims. The first cause of his apostasy from it remains uncertain. One tradition states that the shock to his creed arose from some early injury received through the fraud of a professing Christian. Something is probably due to exasperation at the severity endured from Constantius; and perhaps still more is due to the natural peculiarity of his character. He was swayed by the imagination rather than the reason, and was kindled with an enthusiastic admiration of the old heathen literature and the historic glories of the heathen world. His very style exhibits traces of imitation of the old models after which he formed himself.(225) With a spirit which the Italian writers of the Renaissance enable us to understand, his sympathies clung round heathens until they entwined in their embrace heathenism itself. To a mind of this natural bias sufficient grounds unhappily would easily be found to produce aversion to Christianity, in the quarrels among sections of the church, and in the ambition and inconsistency of the numbers of nominal converts who embraced the religion when its public establishment had rendered it their interest to do so; and prejudice would add arguments for rejecting it.
Accordingly he devoted his short reign to restore the ancient heathenism. Like Constantine, having arrived at the throne through a troublous war, he found the religion of the state opposed to his own convictions, and determined to substitute that which he himself professed. The difference however was great. The religion of Constantine was young and progressive; that of Julian was effete. It is in this respect that Julian has been compared,(226) in his character and acts, to those who in modern times, both in literature and in politics, have devoted their lives to roll back the progress of public opinion, and reproduce the spirit of the past by giving new life to the relics of bygone ages. If Julian had succeeded in his attempt, the victory could not have been permanent.