Preaching and Paganism
by Albert Parker Fitch
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Doctrines, then, are not arbitrary but natural, not accidental but essential. They are the hypotheses regarding the eternal nature of things drawn from the data of our moral and spiritual experience. They are to religion just what the science of electricity is to a trolley car, or what the formula of evolution is to natural science, or what the doctrine of the conservation of energy is, or was, to physics. Doctrines are signposts; they are placards, index fingers, notices summing up and commending the proved essences of religious experience. Two things are always true of sound doctrine. First: it is not considered to have primary value; its worth is in the experience to which it witnesses. Second: it is not fixed but flexible and progressive. Someone has railed at theology, defining it as the history of discarded errors. That is a truth and a great compliment and the definition holds good of the record of any other science.

Now, if doctrines are signposts, dogmas are old and now misleading milestones. For what is a dogma? It may be one of two things. Usually it is a doctrine that has forgotten that it ever had a history; a formula which once had authority because it was a genuine interpretation of experience but which now is so outmoded in fashion of thought, or so maladjusted to our present scale of values, as to be no longer clearly related to experience and is therefore accepted merely on command, or on the prestige of its antiquity. Or it may be a doctrine promulgated ex cathedra, not because religious experience produced it, but because ecclesiastical expediencies demand it. Thus, to illustrate the first sort of dogma, there was once a doctrine of the Virgin Birth. Men found, as they still do, both God and man in Jesus; they discovered when they followed Him their own real humanity and true divinity. They tried to explain and formalize the experience and made a doctrine which, for the circle of ideas and the extent of the factual knowledge of the times, was both reasonable and valuable. The experience still remains, but the doctrine is no longer psychologically or biologically credible. It no longer offers a tenable explanation; it is not a valuable or illuminating interpretation. Hence if we hold it at all today, it is either for sentiment or for the sake of mere tradition, namely, for reasons other than its intellectual usefulness or its inherent intelligibility. So held it passes over from doctrine into dogma. Or take, as an example of the second sort, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, promulgated by Pius IX in the year 1854, and designed to strengthen the prestige of the Papal See among the Catholic powers of Europe and to prolong its hold upon its temporal possessions. De Cesare describes the promulgation of the dogma as follows:

"The festival on that day, December 8, 1854, sacred to the Virgin, was magnificent. After chanting the Gospel, first in Latin, then in Greek, Cardinal Macchi, deacon of the Sacred College, together with the senior archbishops and bishops present, all approached the Papal throne, pronouncing these words in Latin, 'Deign, most Holy Father, to lift your Apostolic voice and pronounce the dogmatic Decree of the Immaculate Conception, on account of which there will be praise in heaven and rejoicings on earth.' The Pope replying, stated that he welcomed the wish of the Sacred College, the episcopate, the clergy, and declared it was essential first of all to invoke the help of the Holy Spirit. So saying he intoned in Veni Creator, chanted in chorus by all present. The chant concluded, amid a solemn silence Pius IX's finely modulated voice read the following Decree:

"'It shall be Dogma, that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of the Conception, by singular privilege and grace of God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved from all stain of original sin.' The senior cardinal then prayed the Pope to make this Decree public, and, amid the roar of cannon from Fort St. Angelo and the festive ringing of church bells, the solemn act was accomplished.'"[42] Here is an assertion regarding Mary's Conception which has only the most tenuous connection with religious experience and which was pronounced for ecclesiastical and political reasons. Here we have dogma at its worst. Here, indeed, it is so bad as to resemble many of the current political and economic pronunciamentos!

[Footnote 42: The Last Days of Papal Rome, pp. 127 ff.]

Now, nobody wants dogmatic preaching, but there is nothing that we need more than we do doctrinal preaching and nothing which is more interesting. The specialization of knowledge has assigned to the preacher of religion a definite sphere. No amount of secondary expertness in politics or economics or social reform or even morals can atone for the abandonment of our own province. We are set to think about and expound religion and if we give that up we give up our place in a learned profession. Moreover, the new conditions of the modern world make doctrine imperative. That world is distinguished by its free inquiry, its cultivation of the scientific method, its abandonment of obscuranticisms and ambiguities. It demands, then, devout and holy thinking from us. Who would deny that the revival of intellectual authority and leadership in matters of religion is terribly needed in our day? Sabatier is right in saying that a religion without doctrine is a self-contradictory idea. Harnack is not wrong in saying that a Christianity without it is inconceivable.

And now I know you are thinking in your hearts, Well, what inconsistency this man shows! For a whole book he has been insisting on the prime values of imagination and feeling in religion and now he concludes with a plea for the thinker. But it is not so inconsistent as it appears. It is just because we do believe that the discovery, the expression and the rewards of religion lie chiefly in the superrational and poetic realms that therefore we want this intellectual content to accompany it, not supersede it, as a balancing influence, a steadying force. There are grave perils in worshipful services corresponding to their supreme values. Mystical preaching has the defects of its virtues and too often sinks into that vague sentimentalism which is the perversion of its excellence. How insensibly sometimes does high and precious feeling degenerate into a sort of religious hysteria! It needs then to be always tested and corrected by clear thinking.

But we in no way alter our original insistence that in our realm as preachers, unlike the scientist's realm of the theologians, thought is the handmaid, not the mistress. Our great plea, then, for doctrinal preaching is that by intellectual grappling with the final and speculative problems of religion we do not supersede but feed the emotional life and do not diminish but focus and steady it. It is that you and I may have reserves of feeling—indispensable to great preaching—sincerity and intensity of emotion, that disciplined imagination which is genius, that restrained passion which is art, and that our congregations may have the same, that we must strive for intellectual power, must do the preaching that gives people something to think about. These are the religious and devout reasons why we value intellectual honesty, precision of utterance, reserve of statement, logical and coherent thinking.

We are come, then, to the conclusion of our discussions. They have been intended to restore a neglected emphasis upon the imaginative and transcendent as distinguished from the ethical and humanistic aspects of the religious life. They have tried to show that the reaching out by worship to this "otherness" of God and to the ultimate in life is man's deepest hunger and the one we are chiefly set to feed. I am sure that the chief ally of the experience of the transcendence of God and the cultivation of the worshipful faculties in man is to be found in severe and speculative thinking. I believe our almost unmixed passion for piety, for action, for practical efficiency, betrays us. It indicates that we are trying to manufacture effects to conceal the absence of causes. We may look for a religious revival when men have so meditated upon and struggled with the fundamental ideas of religion that they feel profoundly its eternal mysteries.

And finally, we have the best historical grounds for our position. Sometimes great religious movements have been begun by unlearned and uncritical men like Peter the hermit or John Bunyan or Moody. But we must not infer from this that religious insight is naturally repressed by clear thinking or fostered by ignorance. Dr. Francis Greenwood Peabody has pointed out that the great religious epochs in Christian history are also epochs in the history of theology. The Pauline epistles, the Confessions of Augustine, the Meditations of Anselm, the Simple Method of How to Pray of Luther, the Regula of Loyola, the Monologen of Schleiermacher, these are all manuals of the devout life, they belong in the distinctively religious world of supersensuous and the transcendent, and one thing which accounts for them is that the men who produced them were religious geniuses because they were also theologians.[43]

[Footnote 43: See the "Call to Theology," Har. Theo. Rev., vol. I, no. 1, pp. 1 ff.]

It is to be remembered that we are not saying that the theologian makes the saint. I do not believe that. Devils can believe and tremble; Abelard was no saint. But we are contending that the great saint is extremely likely to be a theologian. Protestantism, Methodism, Tractarianism, were chiefly religious movements, interested in the kind of questions and moved by the sorts of motives which we have been talking about. They all began within the precincts of universities. Moreover, the Lord Jesus, consummate mystic, incomparable artist, was such partly because He was a great theologian as well. His dealings with scribe and Pharisee furnish some of the world's best examples of acute and courageous dialectics. His theological method differed markedly from the academicians of His day. Nevertheless it was noted that He spoke with an extraordinary authority. "He gave," as Dr. Peabody also points out, "new scope and significance to the thought of God, to the nature of man, to the destiny of the soul, to the meaning of the world. He would have been reckoned among the world's great theologians if other endowments had not given Him a higher title."[44]

[Footnote 44: "Call to Theology," Har. Theo. Rev., vol. I, no. 1, p. 8.]

It is a higher title to have been the supreme mystic, the perfect seer. All I have been trying to say is that it is to these sorts of excellencies that the preacher aspires. But the life of Jesus supremely sanctions the conviction that preaching upon high and abstract and even speculative themes and a rigorous intellectual discipline are chief accompaniments, appropriate and indispensable aids, to religious insight and to the cultivating of worshipful feeling. So we close our discussions with the supreme name upon our lips, leaving the most fragrant memory, the clearest picture, remembering Him who struck the highest note. It is to His life and teaching that we humbly turn to find the final sanction for the distinctively religious values. Who else, indeed, has the words of Eternal Life?

* * * * *



1871-72 Beecher, H.W., Yale Lectures on Preaching, first series. New York, 1872.

1872-73 Beecher, H.W., Yale Lectures on Preaching, second series. New York, 1873.

1873-74 Beecher, H.W., Yale Lectures on Preaching, third series. New York, 1874.

1874-75 Hall, John, God's Word through Preaching. New York, 1875.

1875-76 Taylor, William M., The Ministry of the Word. New York, 1876.

1876-77 Brooks, P., Lectures on Preaching. New York, 1877.

1877-78 Dale, R.W., Nine Lectures on Preaching. New York, 1878.

1878-79 Simpson, M., Lectures on Preaching. New York, 1879.

1879-80 Crosby, H., The Christian Preacher. New York, 1880.

1880-81 Duryea, J.T., and others (not published).

1881-82 Robinson, E.G., Lectures on Preaching. New York, 1883.

1882-83 (No lectures.)

1883-84 Burton, N.J., Yale Lectures on Preaching, and other writings. New York, 1888.*

1884-85 Storrs, H.M., The American Preacher (not published).

1885-86 Taylor, W.M., The Scottish Pulpit. New York, 1887.

1886-87 Gladden, W., Tools and the Man. Boston, 1893.

1887-88 Trumbull. H.C., The Sunday School. Philadelphia, 1888.

1888-89 Broadus, J.A., Preaching and the Ministerial Life (not published).

1889-90 Behrends, A.J.F., The Philosophy of Preaching. New York, 1890.

1890-91 Stalker, J., The Preacher and His Models. New York, 1891.

1891-92 Fairbarn, A.M., The Place of Christ in Modern Theology. New York, 1893.

1892-93 Horton, R.F., Verbum Dei. New York, 1893.*

1893-94 (No lectures.)

1894-95 Greer, D.H., The Preacher and His Place. New York, 1895.

1895-96 Van Dyke, H., The Gospel for an Age of Doubt. New York, 1896*

1896-97 Watson, J., The Cure of Souls. New York, 1896.

1897-98 Tucker, W.J., The Making and the Unmaking of the Preacher. Boston, 1898.

1898-99 Smith, G.A., Modern Criticism and the Old Testament. New York, 1901.

1899-00 Brown, J., Puritan Preaching in England. New York, 1900.

1900-01 (No lectures.)

1901-02 Gladden, W., Social Salvation. New York, 1902.

1902-03 Gordon, G.A., Ultimate Conceptions of Faith. New York, 1903.

1903-04 Abbott, L., The Christian Ministry. Boston, 1905.

1904-05 Peabody, F.G., Jesus Christ and the Christian Character. New York, 1905.*

1905-06 Brown, C.R., The Social Message of the Modern Pulpit. New York, 1906.

1906-07 Forsyth, P.T., Positive Preaching and Modern Mind. New York, 1908.*

1907-08 Faunce, W.H.P., The Educational Ideal in the Ministry. New York, 1908.

1908-09 Henson, H.H., The Liberty of Prophesying. New Haven, 1910.*

1909-10 Jefferson, C.E., The Building of the Church. New York, 1910.

1910-11 Gunsaulus, F.W., The Minister and the Spiritual Life. New York, Chicago, 1911.

1911-12 Jowett, J.H., The Preacher; His Life and Work. New York, 1912.

1912-13 Parkhurst, C.H., The Pulpit and the Pew. New Haven. 1913.*

1913-14 Home, C. Silvester, The Romance of Preaching. New York, Chicago, 1914.

1914-15 Pepper, George Wharton, A Voice from the Crowd. New Haven, 1915.*

1915-16 Hyde, William DeWitt, The Gospel of Good Will as Revealed in Contemporary Scriptures. New York, 1916.

1916-17 McDowell, William Fraser, Good Ministers of Jesus Christ. New York and Cincinnati, 1917.

1917-18 Coffin, Henry Sloane, In a Day of Social Rebuilding. New Haven.*

1918-19 Kelman, John, The War and Preaching, New Haven.*

1919-20 Fitch, Albert Parker, Preaching and Paganism. New Haven.*

*Also published in London.



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