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History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickson White

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Church, many of the peasantry of Russia were prevented from
raising and eating potatoes; how, in Scotland, at the beginning
of this century, the use of fanning mills for winnowing grain was
widely denounced as contrary to the text, "The wind bloweth where
it listeth," etc., as leaguing with Satan, who is "Prince of the
powers of the air," and therefore as sufficient cause for
excommunication from the Scotch Church. Instructive it would be
also to note how the introduction of railways was declared by an
archbishop of the French Church to be an evidence of the divine
displeasure against country innkeepers who set meat before their
guests on fast days, and who were now punished by seeing
travellers carried by their doors; how railways and telegraphs
were denounced from a few noted pulpits as heralds of Antichrist;
and how in Protestant England the curate of Rotherhithe, at the
breaking in of the Thames Tunnel, so destructive to life and
property, declared it from his pulpit a just judgment upon the
presumptuous aspirations of mortal man.

The same tendency is seen in the opposition of conscientious men
to the taking of the census in Sweden and the United States, on
account of the terms in which the numbering of Israel is spoken
of in the Old Testament. Religious scruples on similar grounds
have also been avowed against so beneficial a thing as life

Apparently unimportant as these manifestations are, they indicate
a widespread tendency; in the application of scriptural
declarations to matters of social economy, which has not yet
ceased, though it is fast fading away.[459]

[459] For various interdicts laid upon commerce by the Church,
see Heyd, Histoire du Commerce du Levant au Moyen-Age, Leipsic,
1886, vol. ii, passim. For the injury done to commerce by
prohibition of intercourse with the infidel, see Lindsay, History
of Merchant Shipping, London, 1874, vol. ii. For superstitions
regarding the introduction of the potato in Russia, and the name
"devil's root" given it, see Hellwald, Culturgeschichte, vol. ii,
p. 476; also Haxthausen, La Russie. For opposition to winnowing
machines, see Burton, History of Scotland, vol. viii, p. 511;
also Lecky, Eighteenth Century, vol. ii, p. 83; also Mause
Headrigg's views in Scott's Old Mortality, chap. vii. For the
case of a person debarred from the communion for "raising the
devil's wind" with a winnowing machine, see Works of Sir J. Y.
Simpson, vol. ii. Those doubting the authority or motives of
Simpson may be reminded that he was to the day of his death one
of the strictest adherants to Scotch orthodoxy. As to the curate
of Rotherhithe, see Journal of Sir I. Brunel for May 20, 1827, in
Life of I. K. Brunel, p. 30. As to the conclusions drawn from
the numbering of Israel, see Michaelis, Commentaries on the Laws
of Moses, 1874, vol. ii, p. 3. The author of this work himself
witnessed the reluctance of a very conscientious man to answer
the questions of a census marshal, Mr. Lewis Hawley, of Syracuse,
New York; and this reluctance was based upon the reasons assigned
in II Samuel xxiv, 1, and I Chronicles xxi,1, for the numbering
of the children of Israel.

Worthy of especial study, too, would be the evolution of the
modern methods of raising and bettering the condition of the
poor,--the evolution, especially, of the idea that men are to be
helped to help themselves, in opposition to the old theories of
indiscriminate giving, which, taking root in some of the most
beautiful utterances of our sacred books, grew in the warm
atmosphere of medieval devotion into great systems for the
pauperizing of the labouring classes. Here, too, scientific
modes of thought in social science have given a new and nobler
fruitage to the whole growth of Christian benevolence.[460]

[460] Among the vast number of authorities regarding the
evolution of better methods in dealing with pauperism, I would
call attention to a work which is especially suggestive--
Behrends, Christianity and Socialism, New York, 1886.




The great sacred books of the world are the most precious of
human possessions. They embody the deepest searchings into the
most vital problems of humanity in all its stages: the naive
guesses of the world's childhood, the opening conceptions of its
youth, the more fully rounded beliefs of its maturity.

These books, no matter how unhistorical in parts and at times,
are profoundly true. They mirror the evolution of man's
loftiest aspirations, hopes, loves, consolations, and
enthusiasms; his hates and fears; his views of his origin and
destiny; his theories of his rights and duties; and these not
merely in their lights but in their shadows. Therefore it is
that they contain the germs of truths most necessary in the
evolution of humanity, and give to these germs the environment
and sustenance which best insure their growth and strength.

With wide differences in origin and character, this sacred
literature has been developed and has exercised its influence in
obedience to certain general laws. First of these in time, if
not in importance, is that which governs its origin: in all
civilizations we find that the Divine Spirit working in the mind
of man shapes his sacred books first of all out of the chaos of
myth and legend; and of these books, when life is thus breathed
into them, the fittest survive.

So broad and dense is this atmosphere of myth and legend
enveloping them that it lingers about them after they have been
brought forth full-orbed; and, sometimes, from it are even
produced secondary mythical and legendary concretions--satellites
about these greater orbs of early thought. Of these secondary
growths one may be mentioned as showing how rich in myth-making
material was the atmosphere which enveloped our own earlier
sacred literature.

In the third century before Christ there began to be elaborated
among the Jewish scholars of Alexandria, then the great centre of
human thought, a Greek translation of the main books constituting
the Old Testament. Nothing could be more natural at that place
and time than such a translation; yet the growth of explanatory
myth and legend around it was none the less luxuriant. There
was indeed a twofold growth. Among the Jews favourable to the
new version a legend rose which justified it. This legend in its
first stage was to the effect that the Ptolemy then on the
Egyptian throne had, at the request of his chief librarian, sent
to Jerusalem for translators; that the Jewish high priest
Eleazar had sent to the king a most precious copy of the
Scriptures from the temple at Jerusalem, and six most venerable,
devout, and learned scholars from each of the twelve tribes of
Israel; that the number of translators thus corresponded with the
mysterious seventy-two appellations of God; and that the combined
efforts of these seventy-two men produced a marvellously perfect

But in that atmosphere of myth and marvel the legend continued to
grow, and soon we have it blooming forth yet more gorgeously in
the statement that King Ptolemy ordered each of the seventy-two
to make by himself a full translation of the entire Old
Testament, and shut up each translator in a separate cell on the
island of Pharos, secluding him there until the work was done;
that the work of each was completed in exactly seventy-two days;
and that when, at the end of the seventy-two days, the
seventy-two translations were compared, each was found exactly
like all the others. This showed clearly Jehovah's APPROVAL.

But out of all this myth and legend there was also evolved an
account of a very different sort. The Jews who remained
faithful to the traditions of their race regarded this Greek
version as a profanation, and therefore there grew up the legend
that on the completion of the work there was darkness over the
whole earth during three days. This showed clearly Jehovah's

These well-known legends, which arose within what--as compared
with any previous time--was an exceedingly enlightened period,
and which were steadfastly believed by a vast multitude of Jews
and Christians for ages, are but single examples among scores
which show how inevitably such traditions regarding sacred books
are developed in the earlier stages of civilization, when men
explain everything by miracle and nothing by law.[461]

[461] For the legend regarding the Septaguint, especially as
developed by the letters of Pseudo-Aristeas, and for quaint
citations from the fathers regarding it, see The History of the
Seventy-two Interpretors, from the Greek of Aristeas, translated
by Mr. Lewis, London, 1715; also Clement of Alexandria, in the
Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Edinburgh, 1867, p. 448. For
interesting summaries showing the growth of the story, see
Drummond, Philo Judaeus and the Growth of the Alexandrian
Philosophy, London, 1888, vol. i, pp. 231 et seq.; also Renan,
Histoire du Peuple Israel, vol. iv, chap. iv; also, for Philo
Judaeus's part in developing the legend, see Rev. Dr. Sanday's
Bampton Lectures for 1893, on Inspiration, pp. 86, 87.

As the second of these laws governing the evolution of sacred
literature may be mentioned that which we have constantly seen so
effective in the growth of theological ideas--that to which Comte
gave the name of the Law of Wills and Causes. Obedient to
this, man attributes to the Supreme Being a physical,
intellectual, and moral structure like his own; hence it is that
the votary of each of the great world religions ascribes to its
sacred books what he considers absolute perfection: he imagines
them to be what he himself would give the world, were he himself
infinitely good, wise, and powerful.

A very simple analogy might indeed show him that even a
literature emanating from an all-wise, beneficent, and powerful
author might not seem perfect when judged by a human standard;
for he has only to look about him in the world to find that the
work which he attributes to an all-wise, all-beneficent, and
all-powerful Creator is by no means free from evil and wrong.

But this analogy long escapes him, and the exponent of each great
religion proves to his own satisfaction, and to the edification
of his fellows, that their own sacred literature is absolutely
accurate in statement, infinitely profound in meaning, and
miraculously perfect in form. From these premises also he
arrives at the conclusion that his own sacred literature is
unique; that no other sacred book can have emanated from a divine
source; and that all others claiming to be sacred are impostures.

Still another law governing the evolution of sacred literature in
every great world religion is, that when the books which compose
it are once selected and grouped they come to be regarded as a
final creation from which nothing can be taken away, and of which
even error in form, if sanctioned by tradition, may not be

The working of this law has recently been seen on a large scale.

A few years since, a body of chosen scholars, universally
acknowledged to be the most fit for the work, undertook, at the
call of English-speaking Christendom, to revise the authorized
English version of the Bible.

Beautiful as was that old version, there was abundant reason for
a revision. The progress of biblical scholarship had revealed
multitudes of imperfections and not a few gross errors in the
work of the early translators, and these, if uncorrected, were
sure to bring the sacred volume into discredit.

Nothing could be more reverent than the spirit of the revisers,
and the nineteenth century has known few historical events of
more significant and touching beauty than the participation in
the holy communion by all these scholars--prelates, presbyters,
ministers, and laymen of churches most widely differing in belief
and observance--kneeling side by side at the little altar in
Westminster Abbey.

Nor could any work have been more conservative and cautious than
theirs; as far as possible they preserved the old matter and
form with scrupulous care.

Yet their work was no sooner done than it was bitterly attacked
and widely condemned; to this day it is largely regarded with
dislike. In Great Britain, in America, in Australia, the old
version, with its glaring misconceptions, mistranslations, and
interpolations, is still read in preference to the new; the
great body of English-speaking Christians clearly preferring the
accustomed form of words given by the seventeenth-century
translators, rather than a nearer approach to the exact teaching
of the Holy Ghost.

Still another law is, that when once a group of sacred books has
been evolved--even though the group really be a great library of
most dissimilar works, ranging in matter from the hundredth Psalm
to the Song of Songs, and in manner from the sublimity of Isaiah
to the offhand story-telling of Jonah--all come to be thought one
inseparable mass of interpenetrating parts; every statement in
each fitting exactly and miraculously into each statement in
every other; and each and every one, and all together, literally
true to fact, and at the same time full of hidden meanings.

The working of these and other laws governing the evolution of
sacred literature is very clearly seen in the great rabbinical
schools which flourished at Jerusalem, Tiberias, and elsewhere,
after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, and
especially as we approach the time of Christ. These schools
developed a subtlety in the study of the Old Testament which
seems almost preternatural. The resultant system was mainly a
jugglery with words, phrases, and numbers, which finally became a
"sacred science," with various recognised departments, in which
interpretation was carried on sometimes by attaching a numerical
value to letters; sometimes by interchange of letters from
differently arranged alphabets; sometimes by the making of new
texts out of the initial letters of the old; and with
ever-increasing subtlety.

Such efforts as these culminated fitly in the rabbinical
declaration that each passage in the law has seventy distinct
meanings, and that God himself gives three hours every day to
their study.

After this the Jewish world was prepared for anything, and it
does not surprise us to find such discoveries in the domain of
ethical culture as the doctrine that, for inflicting the forty
stripes save one upon those who broke the law, the lash should be
braided of ox-hide and ass-hide; and, as warrant for this
construction of the lash, the text, "The ox knoweth his owner,
and the ass his master's crib, but Israel doth not know"; and,
as the logic connecting text and lash, the statement that Jehovah
evidently intended to command that "the men who know not shall be
beaten by those animals whose knowledge shames them."

By such methods also were revealed such historical treasures as
that Og, King of Bashan, escaped the deluge by wading after
Noah's ark.

There were, indeed, noble exceptions to this kind of teaching.
It can not be forgotten that Rabbi Hillel formulated the golden
rule, which had before him been given to the extreme Orient by
Confucius, and which afterward received a yet more beautiful and
positive emphasis from Jesus of Nazareth; but the seven rules of
interpretation laid down by Hillel were multiplied and refined by
men like Rabbi Ismael and Rabbi Eleazar until they justified
every absurd subtlety.[462]

[462] For a multitude of amusing examples of rabbinical
interpretations, see an article in Blackwood's Magazine for
November, 1882. For a more general discussion, see Archdeacon
Farrar's History of Interpretation, lect. i and ii, and Rev.
Prof. H. P. Smith's Inspiration and Inerrancy, Cincinnati, 1893,
especially chap. iv; also Reuss, History of the New Testament,
English translation, pp. 527, 528.

An eminent scholar has said that while the letter of Scripture
became ossified in Palestine, it became volatilized at
Alexandria; and the truth of this remark was proved by the
Alexandrian Jewish theologians just before the beginning of our

This, too, was in obedience to a law of development, which is,
that when literal interpretation clashes with increasing
knowledge or with progress in moral feeling, theologians take
refuge in mystic meanings--a law which we see working in all
great religions, from the Brahmans finding hidden senses in the
Vedas, to Plato and the Stoics finding them in the Greek myths;
and from the Sofi reading new meanings into the Koran, to eminent
Christian divines of the nineteenth century giving a non-natural
sense to some of the plainest statements in the Bible.

Nothing is more natural than all this. When naive statements of
sacred writers, in accord with the ethics of early ages, make
Brahma perform atrocities which would disgrace a pirate; and
Jupiter take part in adventures worthy of Don Juan; and Jahveh
practise trickery, cruelty, and high-handed injustice which would
bring any civilized mortal into the criminal courts, the
invention of allegory is the one means of saving the divine
authority as soon as men reach higher planes of civilization.

The great early master in this evolution of allegory, for the
satisfaction of Jews and Christians, was Philo: by him its use
came in as never before. The four streams of the garden of Eden
thus become the four virtues; Abraham's country and kindred,
from which he was commanded to depart, the human body and its
members; the five cities of Sodom, the five senses; the
Euphrates, correction of manners. By Philo and his compeers even
the most insignificant words and phrases, and those especially,
were held to conceal the most precious meanings.

A perfectly natural and logical result of this view was reached
when Philo, saturated as he was with Greek culture and nourished
on pious traditions of the utterances at Delphi and Dodona, spoke
reverently of the Jewish Scriptures as "oracles". Oracles they
became: as oracles they appeared in the early history of the
Christian Church; and oracles they remained for centuries:
eternal life or death, infinite happiness or agony, as well as
ordinary justice in this world, being made to depend on shifting
interpretations of a long series of dark and doubtful
utterances--interpretations frequently given by men who might
have been prophets and apostles, but who had become simply

Pressing these oracles into the service of science, Philo became
the forerunner of that long series of theologians who, from
Augustine and Cosmas to Mr. Gladstone, have attempted to
extract from scriptural myth and legend profound contributions to
natural science. Thus he taught that the golden candlesticks in
the tabernacle symbolized the planets, the high priest's robe the
universe, and the bells upon it the harmony of earth and
water--whatever that may mean. So Cosmas taught, a thousand
years later, that the table of shewbread in the tabernacle showed
forth the form and construction of the world; and Mr. Gladstone
hinted, more than a thousand years later still, that Neptune's
trident had a mysterious connection with the Christian doctrine
of the Trinity.[463]

[463] For Philo Judaeus, see Yonge's translation, Bohn's edition;
see also Sanday, Inspiration, pp. 78-85. For admirable general
remarks on this period in history of exegesis, see Bartlett,
Bampton Lectures, 1888, p. 29. For efforts in general to save
the credit of myths by allegorical interpretation, and for those
of Philo in particular, see Drummond, Philo Judaeus, London,
1888, vol. i, pp. 18, 19, and notes. For interesting examples of
Alexandrian exegesis and for Philo's application of the term
"oracle" to the Jewish Scriptures, see Farrar, History of
Interpretation, p. 147 and note. For his discovery of symbols of
the universe in the furniture of the tabernacle, see Drummond, as
above, pp. 269 et seq. For the general subject, admirably
discussed from a historical point of view, see the Rev. Edwin
Hatch, D. D., The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the
Christian Church, Hibbert Lectures for 1888, chap. iii. For
Cosmas, see my chapters on Geography and Astronomy. For Mr.
Gladstone's view of the connection between Neptune's trident and
the doctrine of the Trinity, see his Juventus Mundi.

These methods, as applied to the Old Testament, had appeared at
times in the New; in spite of the resistance of Tertullian and
Irenaeus, they were transmitted to the Church; and in the works
of the early fathers they bloomed forth luxuriantly.

Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria vigorously extended them.
Typical of Justin's method is his finding, in a very simple
reference by Isaiah to Damascus, Samaria, and Assyria, a clear
prophecy of the three wise men of the East who brought gifts to
the infant Saviour; and in the bells on the priest's robe a
prefiguration of the twelve apostles. Any difficulty arising
from the fact that the number of bells is not specified in
Scripture, Justin overcame by insisting that David referred to
this prefiguration in the nineteenth Psalm: "Their sound is gone
out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the

Working in this vein, Clement of Alexandria found in the form,
dimensions, and colour of the Jewish tabernacle a whole wealth of
interpretation--the altar of incense representing the earth
placed at the centre of the universe; the high priest's robe the
visible world; the jewels on the priest's robe the zodiac; and
Abraham's three days' journey to Mount Moriah the three stages of
the soul in its progress toward the knowledge of God.
Interpreting the New Testament, he lessened any difficulties
involved in the miracle of the barley loaves and fishes by
suggesting that what it really means is that Jesus gave mankind a
preparatory training for the gospel by means of the law and
philosophy; because, as he says, barley, like the law, ripens
sooner than wheat, which represents the gospel; and because,
just as fishes grow in the waves of the ocean, so philosophy grew
in the waves of the Gentile world.

Out of reasonings like these, those who followed, especially
Cosmas, developed, as we have seen, a complete theological
science of geography and astronomy.[464]

[464] For Justin, see the Dialogue with Trypho, chaps. xlii,
lxxvi, and lxxxiii. For Clement of Alexandria, see his
Miscellanies, book v, chaps. vi and xi, and book vii, chap. xvi,
and especially Hatch, Hibbert Lectures, as above, pp. 76, 77. As
to the loose views of the canon held by these two fathers and
others of their time, see Ladd, Doctrine of the Sacred
Scriptures, vol. ii, pp. 86, 88; also Diestel, Geschichte des
alten Testaments.

But the instrument in exegesis which was used with most cogent
force was the occult significance of certain numbers. The
Chaldean and Egyptian researches of our own time have revealed
the main source of this line of thought; the speculations of
Plato upon it are well known; but among the Jews and in the
early Church it grew into something far beyond the wildest
imaginings of the priests of Memphis and Babylon.

Philo had found for the elucidation of Scripture especially deep
meanings in the numbers four, six, and seven; but other
interpreters soon surpassed him. At the very outset this occult
power was used in ascertaining the canonical books of Scripture.
Josephus argued that, since there were twenty-two letters in the
Hebrew alphabet, there must be twenty-two sacred books in the Old
Testament; other Jewish authorities thought that there should be
twenty-four books, on account of the twenty-four watches in the
temple. St. Jerome wavered between the argument based upon
the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet and that suggested
by the twenty-four elders in the Apocalypse. Hilary of Poitiers
argued that there must be twenty-four books, on account of the
twenty-four letters in the Greek alphabet. Origen found an
argument for the existence of exactly four gospels in the
existence of just four elements. Irenaeus insisted that there
could be neither more nor fewer than four gospels, since the
earth has four quarters, the air four winds, and the cherubim
four faces; and he denounced those who declined to accept this
reasoning as "vain, ignorant, and audacious."[465]

[465] For Jerome and Origen, see notes on pages following. For
Irenaeus, see Irenaeus, Adversus Hoeres., lib. iii, cap. xi, S 8.
For the general subject, see Sanday, Inspiration, p. 115; also
Farrar and H. P. Smith as above. For a recent very full and very
curious statement from a Roman Catholic authority regarding views
cherished in the older Church as to the symbolism of numbers, see
Detzel, Christliche Iconographie, Freiburg in Bresigau, Band i,
Einleitung, p. 4.

But during the first half of the third century came one who
exercised a still stronger influence in this direction--a great
man who, while rendering precious services, did more than any
other to fasten upon the Church a system which has been one of
its heaviest burdens for more than sixteen hundred years: this
was Origen. Yet his purpose was noble and his work based on
profound thought. He had to meet the leading philosophers of
the pagan world, to reply to their arguments against the Old
Testament, and especially to break the force of their taunts
against its imputation of human form, limitations, passions,
weaknesses, and even immoralities to the Almighty.

Starting with a mistaken translation of a verse in the book of
Proverbs, Origen presented as a basis for his main structure the
idea of a threefold sense of Scripture: the literal, the moral,
and the mystic--corresponding to the Platonic conception of the
threefold nature of man. As results of this we have such
masterpieces as his proof, from the fifth verse of chapter xxv of
Job, that the stars are living beings, and from the well-known
passage in the nineteenth chapter of St. Matthew his warrant
for self-mutilation. But his great triumphs were in the
allegorical method. By its use the Bible was speedily made an
oracle indeed, or, rather, a book of riddles. A list of kings in
the Old Testament thus becomes an enumeration of sins; the
waterpots of stone, "containing two or three firkins apiece," at
the marriage of Cana, signify the literal, moral, and spiritual
sense of Scripture; the ass upon which the Saviour rode on his
triumphal entry into Jerusalem becomes the Old Testament, the
foal the New Testament, and the two apostles who went to loose
them the moral and mystical senses; blind Bartimeus throwing off
his coat while hastening to Jesus, opens a whole treasury of
oracular meanings.

The genius and power of Origen made a great impression on the
strong thinkers who followed him. St. Jerome called him "the
greatest master in the Church since the apostles," and Athanasius
was hardly less emphatic.

The structure thus begun was continued by leading theologians
during the centuries following: St. Hilary of Poitiers--"the
Athanasius of Gaul"--produced some wonderful results of this
method; but St. Jerome, inspired by the example of the man whom
he so greatly admired, went beyond him. A triumph of his
exegesis is seen in his statement that the Shunamite damsel who
was selected to cherish David in his old age signified heavenly

The great mind of St. Augustine was drawn largely into this
kind of creation, and nothing marks more clearly the vast change
which had come over the world than the fact that this greatest of
the early Christian thinkers turned from the broader paths opened
by Plato and Aristotle into that opened by Clement of Alexandria.

In the mystic power of numbers to reveal the sense of Scripture
Augustine found especial delight. He tells us that there is
deep meaning in sundry scriptural uses of the number forty, and
especially as the number of days required for fasting. Forty,
he reminds us, is four times ten. Now, four, he says, is the
number especially representing time, the day and the year being
each divided into four parts; while ten, being made up of three
and seven, represents knowledge of the Creator and creature,
three referring to the three persons in the triune Creator, and
seven referring to the three elements, heart, soul, and mind,
taken in connection with the four elements, fire, air, earth, and
water, which go to make up the creature. Therefore this number
ten, representing knowledge, being multiplied by four,
representing time, admonishes us to live during time according to
knowledge--that is, to fast for forty days. Referring to such
misty methods as these, which lead the reader to ask himself
whether he is sleeping or waking, St. Augustine remarks that
"ignorance of numbers prevents us from understanding such things
in Scripture." But perhaps the most amazing example is to be
seen in his notes on the hundred and fifty and three fishes
which, according to St. John's Gospel, were caught by St.
Peter and the other apostles. Some points in his long
development of this subject may be selected to show what the
older theological method could be made to do for a great mind.
He tells us that the hundred and fifty and three fishes embody a
mystery; that the number ten, evidently as the number of the
commandments, indicates the law; but, as the law without the
spirit only kills, we must add the seven gifts of the spirit, and
we thus have the number seventeen, which signifies the old and
new dispensations; then, if we add together every several number
which seventeen contains from one to seventeen inclusive, the
result is a hundred and fifty and three--the number of the
fishes. With this sort of reasoning he finds profound meanings
in the number of furlongs mentioned in he sixth chapter of St.
John. Referring to the fact that the disciples had rowed about
"twenty-five or thirty furlongs," he declares that "twenty-five
typifies the law, because it is five times five, but the law was
imperfect before the gospel came; now perfection is comprised in
six, since God in six days perfected the world, hence five is
multiplied by six that the law may be perfected by the gospel,
and six times five is thirty."

But Augustine's exploits in exegesis were not all based on
numerals; he is sometimes equally profound in other modes. Thus
he tells us that the condemnation of the serpent to eat dust
typifies the sin of curiosity, since in eating dust he
"penetrates the obscure and shadowy"; and that Noah's ark was
"pitched within and without with pitch" to show the safety of the
Church from the leaking in of heresy.

Still another exploit--one at which the Church might well have
stood aghast--was his statement that the drunkenness of Noah
prefigured the suffering and death of Christ. It is but just to
say that he was not the original author of this interpretation:
it had been presented long before by St. Cyprian. But this
was far from Augustine's worst. Perhaps no interpretation of
Scripture has ever led to more cruel and persistent oppression,
torture, and bloodshed than his reading into one of the most
beautiful parables of Jesus of Nazareth--into the words "Compel
them to come in"--a warrant for religious persecution: of all
unintended blasphemies since the world began, possibly the most
appalling. Another strong man follows to fasten these methods on
the Church: St. Gregory the Great. In his renowned work on the
book of Job, the Magna Moralia, given to the world at the end of
the sixth century, he lays great stress on the deep mystical
meanings of the statement that Job had seven sons. He thinks the
seven sons typify the twelve apostles, for "the apostles were
selected through the sevenfold grace of the Spirit; moreover,
twelve is produced from seven--that is, the two parts of seven,
four and three, when multiplied together give twelve." He also
finds deep significance in the number of the apostles; this
number being evidently determined by a multiplication of the
number of persons in the Trinity by the number of quarters of the
globe. Still, to do him justice, it must be said that in some
parts of his exegesis the strong sense which was one of his most
striking characteristics crops out in a way very refreshing.
Thus, referring to a passage in the first chapter of Job,
regarding the oxen which were ploughing and the asses which were
feeding beside them, he tells us pithily that these typify two
classes of Christians: the oxen, the energetic Christians who do
the work of the Church; the asses, the lazy Christians who merely

[466] For Origen, see the De Principiis, book iv, chaps. i-vii et
seq., Crombie's translation; also the Contra Celsum, vol. vi, p.
70; vol. vii, p. 20, etc.; also various citations in Farrar. For
Hilary, see his Tractatus super Psalmos, cap. ix, li, etc. in
Migne, vol. ix, and De Trinitate, lib. ii, cap. ii. For Jerome's
interpretation of the text relating to the Shunamite woman, see
Epist. lii, in Migne, vol. xxii, pp. 527, 528. For Augustine's
use of numbers, see the De Doctrina Christiana, lib. ii, cap.
xvi; and for the explanation of the draught of fishes, see
Augustine in, In Johan. Evangel., tractat. cxxii; and on the
twenty-five to thirty furlongs, ibid., tract. xxv, cap. 6; and
for the significance of the serpent eating dust, De Gen., lib.
ii, c. 18. or the view that the drunkenness of Noah prefigured
the suffering of Christ, as held by SS. Cyprian and Augustine,
see Farrar, as above, pp. 181, 238. For St. Gregory, see the
Magna Moralia, lib. i, cap. xiv.

Thus began the vast theological structure of oracular
interpretation applied to the Bible. As we have seen, the men
who prepared the ground for it were the rabbis of Palestine and
the Hellenized Jews of Alexandria; and the four great men who
laid its foundation courses were Origen, St. Augustine, St.
Jerome, and St. Gregory.

During the ten centuries following the last of these men this
structure continued to rise steadily above the plain meanings of
Scripture. The Christian world rejoiced in it, and the few
great thinkers who dared bring the truth to bear upon it were
rejected. It did indeed seem at one period in the early Church
that a better system might be developed. The School of Antioch,
especially as represented by Chrysostom, appeared likely to lead
in this better way, but the dominant forces were too strong; the
passion for myth and marvel prevailed over the love of real
knowledge, and the reasonings of Chrysostom and his compeers were

[467] For the work of the School of Antioch, and especially of
Chrysostom, see the eloquent tribute to it by Farrar, as above.

In the ninth century came another effort to present the claims of
right reason. The first man prominent in this was St. Agobard,
Bishop of Lyons, whom an eminent historian has well called the
clearest head of his time. With the same insight which
penetrated the fallacies and follies of image worship, belief in
witchcraft persecution, the ordeal, and the judicial duel, he saw
the futility of this vast fabric of interpretation, protested
against the idea that the Divine Spirit extended its inspiration
to the mere words of Scripture, and asked a question which has
resounded through every generation since: "If you once begin
such a system, who can measure the absurdity which will follow?"

During the same century another opponent of this dominant system
appeared: John Scotus Erigena. He contended that "reason and
authority come alike from the one source of Divine Wisdom"; that
the fathers, great as their authority is, often contradict each
other; and that, in last resort, reason must be called in to
decide between them.

But the evolution of unreason continued: Agobard was unheeded,
and Erigena placed under the ban by two councils--his work being
condemned by a synod as a "Commentum Diaboli." Four centuries
later Honorius III ordered it to be burned, as "teeming with the
venom of hereditary depravity"; and finally, after eight
centuries, Pope Gregory XIII placed it on the Index, where, with
so many other works which have done good service to humanity, it
remains to this day. Nor did Abelard, who, three centuries
after Agobard and Erigena, made an attempt in some respects like
theirs, have any better success: his fate at the hands of St.
Bernard and the Council of Sens the world knows by heart. Far
more consonant with the spirit of the universal Church was the
teaching in the twelfth century of the great Hugo of St.
Victor, conveyed in these ominous words, "Learn first what is to
be believed" (Disce primo quod credendum est), meaning thereby
that one should first accept doctrines, and then find texts to
confirm them.

These principles being dominant, the accretions to the enormous
fabric of interpretation went steadily on. Typical is the fact
that the Venerable Bede contributed to it the doctrine that, in
the text mentioning Elkanah and his two wives, Elkanah means
Christ and the two wives the Synagogue and the Church. Even
such men as Alfred the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas were added to
the forces at work in building above the sacred books this
prodigious structure of sophistry.

Perhaps nothing shows more clearly the tenacity of the old system
of interpretation than the sermons of Savonarola. During the
last decade of the fifteenth century, just at the close of the
medieval period, he was engaged in a life-and-death struggle at
Florence. No man ever preached more powerfully the gospel of
righteousness; none ever laid more stress on conduct; even
Luther was not more zealous for reform or more careless of
tradition; and yet we find the great Florentine apostle and
martyr absolutely tied fast to the old system of allegorical
interpretation. The autograph notes of his sermons, still
preserved in his cell at San Marco, show this abundantly. Thus
we find him attaching to the creation of grasses and plants on
the third day an allegorical connection with the "multitude of
the elect" and with the "sound doctrines of the Church," and to
the creation of land animals on the sixth day a similar relation
to "the Jewish people" and to "Christians given up to things

[468] For Agobard, see the Liber adversus Fredigisum, cap. xii;
also Reuter's Relig. Aufklarung im Mittelalter, vol. i, p. 24;
also Poole, Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought,
London, 1884, pp. 38 et seq. For Erigena, see his De Divisione
Naturae, lib. iv, cap. v; also i, cap. lxvi-lxxi; and for general
account, see Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, New York, 1871,
vol. i, pp. 358 et seq.; and for the treatment of his work by the
Church, see the edition of the Index under Leo XIII, 1881. For
Abelard, see the Sic et Non, Prologue, Migne, vol. iii, pp. 371-
377. For Hugo of St. Victor, see Erudit. Didask., lib. vii, vi,
4, in Migne, clxxvi. For Savonarola's interpretations, see
various references to his preaching in Villari's life of
Savonarola, English translation, London, 1890, and especially the
exceedingly interesting table in the appendix to vol. i, chap.

The revival of learning in the fifteenth century seemed likely to
undermine this older structure.

Then it was that Lorenzo Valla brought to bear on biblical
research, for the first time, the spirit of modern criticism.
By truly scientific methods he proved the famous "Letter of
Christ to Abgarus" a forgery; the "Donation of Constantine," one
of the great foundations of the ecclesiastical power in temporal
things, a fraud; and the "Apostles' Creed" a creation which
post-dated the apostles by several centuries. Of even more
permanent influence was his work upon the New Testament, in which
he initiated the modern method of comparing manuscripts to find
what the sacred text really is. At an earlier or later period he
would doubtless have paid for his temerity with his life;
fortunately, just at that time the ruling pontiff and his
Contemporaries cared much for literature and little for
orthodoxy, and from their palaces he could bid defiance to the

While Valla thus initiated biblical criticism south of the Alps,
a much greater man began a more fruitful work in northern Europe.
Erasmus, with his edition of the New Testament, stands at the
source of that great stream of modern research and thought which
is doing so much to undermine and dissolve away the vast fabric
of patristic and scholastic interpretation.

Yet his efforts to purify the scriptural text seemed at first to
encounter insurmountable difficulties, and one of these may
stimulate reflection. He had found, what some others had found
before him, that the famous verse in the fifth chapter of the
First Epistle General of St. John, regarding the "three
witnesses," was an interpolation. Careful research through all
the really important early manuscripts showed that it appeared in
none of them. Even after the Bible had been corrected, in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries, by Lanfranc, Archbishop of
Canterbury, and by Nicholas, cardinal and librarian of the Roman
Church, "in accordance with the orthodox faith," the passage was
still wanting in the more authoritative Latin manuscripts.
There was not the slightest tenable ground for believing in the
authenticity of the text; on the contrary, it has been
demonstrated that, after a universal silence of the orthodox
fathers of the Church, of the ancient versions of the Scriptures,
and of all really important manuscripts, the verse first appeared
in a Confession of Faith drawn up by an obscure zealot toward the
end of the fifth century. In a very mild exercise, then, of
critical judgment, Erasmus omitted this text from the first two
editions of his Greek Testament as evidently spurious. A storm
arose at once. In England, Lee, afterward Archbishop of York;
in Spain, Stunica, one of the editors of the Complutensian
Polyglot; and in France, Bude, Syndic of the Sorbonne, together
with a vast army of monks in England and on the Continent,
attacked him ferociously. He was condemned by the University of
Paris, and various propositions of his were declared to be
heretical and impious. Fortunately, the worst persecutors could
not reach him; otherwise they might have treated him as they
treated his disciple, Berquin, whom in 1529 they burned at Paris.

The fate of this spurious text throws light into the workings of
human nature in its relations to sacred literature. Although
Luther omitted it from his translation of the New Testament, and
kept it out of every copy published during his lifetime, and
although at a later period the most eminent Christian scholars
showed that it had no right to a place in the Bible, it was,
after Luther's death, replaced in the German translation, and has
been incorporated into all important editions of it, save one,
since the beginning of the seventeenth century. So essential
was it found in maintaining the dominant theology that, despite
the fact that Sir Isaac Newton, Richard Porson, the
nineteenth-century revisers, and all other eminent authorities
have rejected it, the Anglican Church still retains it in its
Lectionary, and the Scotch Church continues to use it in the
Westminster Catechism, as a main support of the doctrine of the

Nor were other new truths presented by Erasmus better received.
His statement that "some of the epistles ascribed to St. Paul
are certainly not his," which is to-day universally acknowledged
as a truism, also aroused a storm. For generations, then, his
work seemed vain.

On the coming in of the Reformation the great structure of belief
in the literal and historical correctness of every statement in
the Scriptures, in the profound allegorical meanings of the
simplest texts, and even in the divine origin of the vowel
punctuation, towered more loftily and grew more rapidly than ever
before. The Reformers, having cast off the authority of the
Pope and of the universal Church, fell back all the more upon the
infallibility of the sacred books. The attitude of Luther
toward this great subject was characteristic. As a rule, he
adhered tenaciously to the literal interpretation of the
Scriptures; his argument against Copernicus is a fair example of
his reasoning in this respect; but, with the strong good sense
which characterized him, he from time to time broke away from the
received belief. Thus, he took the liberty of understanding
certain passages in the Old Testament in a different sense from
that given them by the New Testament, and declared St. Paul's
allegorical use of the story of Sarah and Hagar "too unsound to
stand the test." He also emphatically denied that the Epistle to
the Hebrews was written by St. Paul, and he did this in the
exercise of a critical judgment upon internal evidence. His
utterance as to the Epistle of St. James became famous. He
announced to the Church: "I do not esteem this an apostolic,
epistle; I will not have it in my Bible among the canonical
books," and he summed up his opinion in his well-known allusion
to it as "an epistle of straw."

Emboldened by him, the gentle spirit of Melanchthon, while
usually taking the Bible very literally, at times revolted; but
this was not due to any want of loyalty to the old method of
interpretation: whenever the wildest and most absurd system of
exegesis seemed necessary to support any part of the reformed
doctrine, Luther and Melanchthon unflinchingly developed it.
Both of them held firmly to the old dictum of Hugo of St. Victor,
which, as we have seen, was virtually that one must first accept
the doctrine, and then find scriptural warrant for it. Very
striking examples of this were afforded in the interpretation by
Luther and Melanchthon of certain alleged marvels of their time,
and one out of several of these may be taken as typical of their

In 1523 Luther and Melanchthon jointly published a work under the
title Der Papstesel--interpreting the significance of a strange,
ass-like monster which, according to a popular story, had been
found floating in the Tiber some time before. This book was
illustrated by startling pictures, and both text and pictures
were devoted to proving that this monster was "a sign from God,"
indicating the doom of the papacy. This treatise by the two
great founders of German Protestantism pointed out that the ass's
head signified the Pope himself; "for," said they, "as well as an
ass's head is suited to a human body, so well is the Pope suited
to be head over the Church." This argument was clinched by a
reference to Exodus. The right hand of the monster, said to be
like an elephant's foot, they made to signify the spiritual rule
of the Pope, since "with it he tramples upon all the weak": this
they proved from the book of Daniel and the Second Epistle to
Timothy. The monster's left hand, which was like the hand of a
man, they declared to mean the Pope's secular rule, and they
found passages to support this view in Daniel and St. Luke.
The right foot, which was like the foot of an ox, they declared
to typify the servants of the spiritual power; and proved this by
a citation from St. Matthew. The left foot, like a griffin's
claw, they made to typify the servants of the temporal power of
the Pope, and the highly developed breasts and various other
members, cardinals, bishops, priests, and monks, "whose life is
eating, drinking, and unchastity": to prove this they cited
passages from Second Timothy and Philippians. The alleged
fish-scales on the arms, legs, and neck of the monster they made
to typify secular princes and lords; "since," as they said, "in
St. Matthew and Job the sea typifies the world, and fishes men."
The old man's head at the base of the monster's spine they
interpreted to mean "the abolition and end of the papacy," and
proved this from Hebrews and Daniel. The dragon which opens his
mouth in the rear and vomits fire, "refers to the terrible,
virulent bulls and books which the Pope and his minions are now
vomiting forth into the world." The two great Reformers then
went on to insist that, since this monster was found at Rome, it
could refer to no person but the Pope; "for," they said, "God
always sends his signs in the places where their meaning
applies." Finally, they assured the world that the monster
in general clearly signified that the papacy was then near its
end. To this development of interpretation Luther and
Melanchthon especially devoted themselves; the latter by revising
this exposition of the prodigy, and the former by making
additions to a new edition. Such was the success of this kind of
interpretation that Luther, hearing that a monstrous calf had
been found at Freiburg, published a treatise upon it--showing, by
citations from the books of Exodus, Kings, the Psalms, Isaiah,
Daniel, and the Gospel of St. John, that this new monster was the
especial work of the devil, but full of meaning in regard to the
questions at issue between the Reformers and the older Church.

The other main branch of the Reformed Church appeared for a time
to establish a better system. Calvin's strong logic seemed at
one period likely to tear his adherents away from the older
method; but the evolution of scholasticism continued, and the
influence of the German reformers prevailed. At every
theological centre came an amazing development of interpretation.

Eminent Lutheran divines in the seventeenth century, like
Gerhard, Calovius, Coccerus, and multitudes of others, wrote
scores of quartos to further this system, and the other branch of
the Protestant Church emulated their example. The pregnant
dictum of St. Augustine--"Greater is the authority of Scripture
than all human capacity"--was steadily insisted upon, and, toward
the close of the seventeenth century, Voetius, the renowned
professor at Utrecht, declared, "Not a word is contained in the
Holy Scriptures which is not in the strictest sense inspired, the
very punctuation not excepted"; and this declaration was echoed
back from multitudes of pulpits, theological chairs, synods, and
councils. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to find what the
"authority of Scripture" really was. To the greater number of
Protestant ecclesiastics it meant the authority of any meaning in
the text which they had the wit to invent and the power to

To increase this vast confusion, came, in the older branch of the
Church, the idea of the divine inspiration of the Latin
translation of the Bible ascribed to St. Jerome--the Vulgate.
It was insisted by leading Catholic authorities that this was as
completely a product of divine inspiration as was the Hebrew
original. Strong men arose to insist even that, where the
Hebrew and the Latin differed, the Hebrew should be altered to
fit Jerome's mistranslation, as the latter, having been made
under the new dispensation, must be better than that made under
the old. Even so great a man as Cardinal Bellarmine exerted
himself in vain against this new tide of unreason.[469]

[469] For Valla, see various sources already named; and for an
especially interesting account, Symond's Renaissance in Italy,
the Revival of Learning, pp. 260-269; and for the opinion of the
best contemporary judge, see Erasmus, Opera, Leyden, 1703, tom.
iii, p. 98. For Erasmus and his opponents, see Life of Erasmus,
by Butler, London, 1825, pp. 179-182; but especially, for the
general subject, Bishop Creighton's History of the Papacy during
the Reformation. For the attack by Bude and the Sorbonne and the
burning of Berquin, see Drummond, Life and character of Erasmus,
vol. ii, pp. 220-223; also pp. 230-239. As to the text of the
Three Witnesses, see Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire, chap. xxxvi, notes 116-118; also Dean Milman's note
thereupon. For a full and learned statement of the evidence
against the verse, see Porson's Letters to Travis, London, 1790,
in which an elaborate discussion of all the MSS. is given. See
also Jowett in Essays and Reviews, p. 307. For a very full and
impartial history of the long controversy over this passage, see
Charles Butler's Horae Biblicae, reprinted in Jared Sparks's
Theological Essays and Tracts, vol. ii. For Luther's ideas of
interpretation, see his Sammtliche Schriften, Walch edition, vol.
i, p. 1199, vol. ii, p. 1758, vol. viii, p. 2140; for some of his
more free views, vol. xiv, p. 472, vol. vi, p. 121, vol. xi, p.
1448, vol. xii, p. 830; also Tholuck, Doctrine of Inspiration,
Boston, 1867, citing the Colloquia, Frankfort, 1571, vol. ii, p.
102; also the Vorreden zu der deutschen Bibelubersetzung, in
Walch's edition, as above, vol. xiv, especially pp. 94, 98, and
146-150. As to Melanchthon, see especially his Loci Communes,
1521; and as to the enormous growth of commentaries in the
generations immediately following, see Charles Beard, Hibbert
Lectures for 1883, on the Reformation, especially the admirable
chapter on Protestant Scholasticism; also Archdeacon Farrar,
history of Interpretation. For the Papstesel, etc., see Luther's
Sammtliche Schriften, edit. Walch, vol. xiv, pp. 2403 et seq.;
also Melanchthon's Opera, edit. Bretschneider, vol. xx, pp. 665
et seq. In the White Library of Cornell University will be found
an original edition of the book, with engravings of the monster.
For the Monchkalb, see Luther's works as above, vol. xix, pp.
2416 et seq. For the spirit of Calvin in interpretation, see
Farrar, ans especially H. P. Smith, D. D., Inspiration and
Inerrancy, chap. iv, and the very brilliant essay forming chap.
iii of the same work, by L. J. Evans, pp. 66 and 67, note. For
the attitude of the older Church toward the Vulgate, see
Pallavicini, Histoire du Concile de Trente, Montrouge, 1844, tome
i, pp 19,20; but especially Symonds, The Catholic Reaction, vol.
i, pp. 226 et seq. As to a demand for the revision of the Hebrew
Bible to correct its differences from the Vulgate, see Emanuel
Deutsch's Literary Remains, New York, 1874, p. 9. For the work
and spirit of Calovius and other commentators immediately
folloeing the Reformation, see Farrar, as above; also Beard,
Schaff, and Hertzog, Geschichte des alten Testaments in der
christlichen Kirche, pp. 527 et seq. As to extreme views of
Voetius and others, see Tholuck, as above. For the Formula
Concensus Helvetica, which in 1675 affirmed the inspiration of
the vowel points, see Schaff, Creeds.

Nor was a fanatical adhesion to the mere letter of the sacred
text confined to western Europe. About the middle of the
seventeenth century, in the reign of Alexis, father of Peter the
Great, Nikon, Patriarch of the Russian Greek Church, attempted to
correct the Slavonic Scriptures and service-books. They were
full of interpolations due to ignorance, carelessness, or zeal,
and in order to remedy this state of the texts Nikon procured a
number of the best Greek and Slavonic manuscripts, set the
leading and most devout scholars he could find at work upon them,
and caused Russian Church councils in 1655 and 1666 to promulgate
the books thus corrected.

But the same feelings which have wrought so strongly against our
nineteenth-century revision of the Bible acted even more forcibly
against that revision in the seventeenth century. Straightway
great masses of the people, led by monks and parish priests, rose
in revolt. The fact that the revisers had written in the New
Testament the name of Jesus correctly, instead of following the
old wrong orthography, aroused the wildest fanaticism. The
monks of the great convent of Solovetsk, when the new books were
sent them, cried in terror: "Woe, woe! what have you done with
the Son of God?" They then shut their gates, defying patriarch,
council, and Czar, until, after a struggle lasting seven years,
their monastery was besieged and taken by an imperial army.
Hence arose the great sect of the "Old Believers," lasting to
this day, and fanatically devoted to the corrupt readings of the
old text.[470]

[470] The present writer, visiting Moscow in the spring of 1894,
was presented by Count Leo Tolstoi to one of the most eminent and
influential members of the sect of "Old Believers," which dates
from the reform of Nikon. Nothing could exceed the fervor with
which this venerable man, standing in the chapel of his superb
villa, expatiated on the horrors of making the sign of the cross
with three fingers instead of two. His argument was that the TWO
fingers, as used by the "Old Believers," typify the divine and
human nature of our Lord, and hence that the use of them is
strictly correct; whereas signing with THREE fingers,
representing the blessed Trinity, is "virtually to crucify all
three persons of the Godhead afresh." Not less cogent were his
arguments regarding the immense value of the old text of
Scripture as compared with the new. For the revolt against Nikon
and his reforms, see Rambaud, History of Russia, vol. i, pp. 414-
416; also Wallace, Russia, vol. ii, pp. 307-309; also Leroy-
Beaulieu, L'Empire des Tsars, vol. iii, livre iii.

Strange to say, on the development of Scripture interpretation,
largely in accordance with the old methods, wrought, about the
beginning of the eighteenth century, Sir Isaac Newton.

It is hard to believe that from the mind which produced the
Principia, and which broke through the many time-honoured
beliefs regarding the dates and formation of scriptural books,
could have come his discussions regarding the prophecies; still,
at various points even in this work, his power appears. From
internal evidence he not only discarded the text of the Three
Witnesses, but he decided that the Pentateuch must have been made
up from several books; that Genesis was not written until the
reign of Saul; that the books of Kings and Chronicles were
probably collected by Ezra; and, in a curious anticipation of
modern criticism, that the book of Psalms and the prophecies of
Isaiah and Daniel were each written by various authors at various
dates. But the old belief in prophecy as prediction was too
strong for him, and we find him applying his great powers to the
relation of the details given by the prophets and in the
Apocalypse to the history of mankind since unrolled, and tracing
from every statement in prophetic literature its exact fulfilment
even in the most minute particulars.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the structure of
scriptural interpretation had become enormous. It seemed
destined to hide forever the real character of our sacred
literature and to obscure the great light which Christianity had
brought into the world. The Church, Eastern and Western,
Catholic and Protestant, was content to sit in its shadow, and
the great divines of all branches of the Church reared every sort
of fantastic buttress to strengthen or adorn it. It seemed to be
founded for eternity; and yet, at this very time when it appeared
the strongest, a current of thought was rapidly dissolving away
its foundations, and preparing that wreck and ruin of the whole
fabric which is now, at the close of the nineteenth century,
going on so rapidly.

The account of the movement thus begun is next to be given.[471]

[471] For Newton's boldness in textual criticism, compared with
his credulity as to the literal fulfilment of prophecy, see his
Observations upon the Prophesies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of
St. John, in his works, edited by Horsley, London, 1785, vol. v,
pp. 297-491.


At the base of the vast structure of the older scriptural
interpretation were certain ideas regarding the first five books
of the Old Testament. It was taken for granted that they had
been dictated by the Almighty to Moses about fifteen hundred
years before our era; that some parts of them, indeed, had been
written by the corporeal finger of Jehovah, and that all parts
gave not merely his thoughts but his exact phraseology. It was
also held, virtually by the universal Church, that while every
narrative or statement in these books is a precise statement of
historical or scientific fact, yet that the entire text contains
vast hidden meanings. Such was the rule: the exceptions made by
a few interpreters here and there only confirmed it. Even the
indifference of St. Jerome to the doctrine of Mosaic authorship
did not prevent its ripening into a dogma.

The book of Genesis was universally held to be an account, not
only divinely comprehensive but miraculously exact, of the
creation and of the beginnings of life on the earth; an account
to which all discoveries in every branch of science must, under
pains and penalties, be made to conform. In English-speaking
lands this has lasted until our own time: the most eminent of
recent English biologists has told us how in every path of
natural science he has, at some stage in his career, come across
a barrier labelled "No thoroughfare Moses."

A favourite subject of theological eloquence was the perfection
of the Pentateuch, and especially of Genesis, not only as a
record of the past, but as a revelation of the future.

The culmination of this view in the Protestant Church was the
Pansophia Mosaica of Pfeiffer, a Lutheran general
superintendent, or bishop, in northern Germany, near the
beginning of the seventeenth century. He declared that the text
of Genesis "must be received strictly"; that "it contains all
knowledge, human and divine"; that "twenty-eight articles of the
Augsburg Confession are to be found in it"; that "it is an
arsenal of arguments against all sects and sorts of atheists,
pagans, Jews, Turks, Tartars, papists, Calvinists, Socinians, and
Baptists"; "the source of all sciences and arts, including law,
medicine, philosophy, and rhetoric"; "the source and essence of
all histories and of all professions, trades, and works"; "an
exhibition of all virtues and vices"; "the origin of all

This utterance resounded through Germany from pulpit to pulpit,
growing in strength and volume, until a century later it was
echoed back by Huet, the eminent bishop and commentator of
France. He cited a hundred authors, sacred and profane, to
prove that Moses wrote the Pentateuch; and not only this, but
that from the Jewish lawgiver came the heathen theology--that
Moses was, in fact, nearly the whole pagan pantheon rolled into
one, and really the being worshipped under such names as Bacchus,
Adonis, and Apollo.[472]

[472] For the passage from Huxley regarding Mosaic barriers to
modern thought, see his Essays, recently published. For
Pfeiffer, see Zoeckler, Theologie und Naturwissenschaft, vol. i,
pp. 688, 689. For St. Jerome's indifference as to the Mosaic
authorship, see the first of the excellent Sketches of the
Pentateuch Criticism, by the Rev. S. J. Curtiss, in the
Bibliotheca Sacra for January, 1884. For Huet, see also Curtiss,

About the middle of the twelfth century came, so far as the world
now knows, the first gainsayer of this general theory. Then it
was that Aben Ezra, the greatest biblical scholar of the Middle
Ages, ventured very discreetly to call attention to certain
points in the Pentateuch incompatible with the belief that the
whole of it had been written by Moses and handed down in its
original form. His opinion was based upon the well-known texts
which have turned all really eminent biblical scholars in the
nineteenth century from the old view by showing the Mosaic
authorship of the five books in their present form to be clearly
disproved by the books themselves; and, among these texts,
accounts of Moses' own death and burial, as well as statements
based on names, events, and conditions which only came into being
ages after the time of Moses.

But Aben Ezra had evidently no aspirations for martyrdom; he
fathered the idea upon a rabbi of a previous generation, and,
having veiled his statement in an enigma, added the caution, "Let
him who understands hold his tongue."[473]

[473] For the texts referred to by Aben Ezra as incompatible with
the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, see Meyer, Geschichte
der Exegese, vol. i, pp. 85-88; and for a pithy short account,
Moore's introduction to The Genesis of Genesis, by B. W. Bacon,
Hartford, 1893, p. 23; also Curtiss, as above. For a full
exhibition of the absolute incompatibility of these texts with
the Mosaic authorship, etc., see The Higher Criticism of the
Pentateuch, by C. A. Briggs, D. D., New York, 1893, especially
chap. iv; also Robertson Smith, art. Bible, in Encycl. Brit.

For about four centuries the learned world followed the prudent
rabbi's advice, and then two noted scholars, one of them a
Protestant, the other a Catholic, revived his idea. The first
of these, Carlstadt, insisted that the authorship of the
Pentateuch was unknown and unknowable; the other, Andreas Maes,
expressed his opinion in terms which would not now offend the
most orthodox, that the Pentateuch had been edited by Ezra, and
had received in the process sundry divinely inspired words and
phrases to clear the meaning. Both these innovators were dealt
with promptly: Carlstadt was, for this and other troublesome
ideas, suppressed with the applause of the Protestant Church;
and the book of Maes was placed by the older Church on the Index.

But as we now look back over the Revival of Learning, the Age of
Discovery, and the Reformation, we can see clearly that powerful
as the older Church then was, and powerful as the Reformed Church
was to be, there was at work something far more mighty than
either or than both; and this was a great law of nature--the law
of evolution through differentiation. Obedient to this law
there now began to arise, both within the Church and without it,
a new body of scholars--not so much theologians as searchers for
truth by scientific methods. Some, like Cusa, were
ecclesiastics; some, like Valla, Erasmus, and the Scaligers, were
not such in any real sense; but whether in holy orders, really,
nominally, or not at all, they were, first of all, literary and
scientific investigators.

During the sixteenth century a strong impulse was given to more
thorough research by several very remarkable triumphs of the
critical method as developed by this new class of men, and two of
these ought here to receive attention on account of their
influence upon the whole after course of human thought.

For many centuries the Decretals bearing the great name of
Isidore had been cherished as among the most valued muniments of
the Church. They contained what claimed to be a mass of canons,
letters of popes, decrees of councils, and the like, from the
days of the apostles down to the eighth century--all supporting
at important points the doctrine, the discipline, the ceremonial,
and various high claims of the Church and its hierarchy.

But in the fifteenth century that sturdy German thinker, Cardinal
Nicholas of Cusa, insisted on examining these documents and on
applying to them the same thorough research and patient thought
which led him, even before Copernicus, to detect the error of the
Ptolemaic astronomy.

As a result, he avowed his scepticism regarding this pious
literature; other close thinkers followed him in investigating
it, and it was soon found a tissue of absurd anachronisms, with
endless clashing and confusion of events and persons.

For a time heroic attempts were made by Church authorities to
cover up these facts. Scholars revealing them were frowned
upon, even persecuted, and their works placed upon the Index;
scholars explaining them away--the "apologists" or "reconcilers"
of that day--were rewarded with Church preferment, one of them
securing for a very feeble treatise a cardinal's hat. But all in
vain; these writings were at length acknowledged by all scholars
of note, Catholic and Protestant, to be mainly a mass of devoutly
cunning forgeries.

While the eyes of scholars were thus opened as never before to
the skill of early Church zealots in forging documents useful to
ecclesiasticism, another discovery revealed their equal skill in
forging documents useful to theology.

For more than a thousand years great stress had been laid by
theologians upon the writings ascribed to Dionysius the
Areopagite, the Athenian convert of St. Paul. Claiming to
come from one so near the great apostle, they were prized as a
most precious supplement to Holy Writ. A belief was developed
that when St. Paul had returned to earth, after having been
"caught up to the third heaven," he had revealed to Dionysius the
things he had seen. Hence it was that the varied pictures given
in these writings of the heavenly hierarchy and the angelic
ministers of the Almighty took strong hold upon the imagination
of the universal Church: their theological statements sank
deeply into the hearts and minds of the Mystics of the twelfth
century and the Platonists of the fifteenth; and the ten epistles
they contained, addressed to St. John, to Titus, to Polycarp,
and others of the earliest period, were considered treasures of
sacred history. An Emperor of the East had sent these writings
to an Emperor of the West as the most precious of imperial gifts.
Scotus Erigena had translated them; St. Thomas Aquinas had
expounded them; Dante had glorified them; Albert the Great had
claimed that they were virtually given by St. Paul and inspired
by the Holy Ghost. Their authenticity was taken for granted by
fathers, doctors, popes, councils, and the universal Church.

But now, in the glow of the Renascence, all this treasure was
found to be but dross. Investigators in the old Church and in
the new joined in proving that the great mass of it was spurious.

To say nothing of other evidences, it failed to stand the
simplest of all tests, for these writings constantly presupposed
institutions and referred to events of much later date than the
time of Dionysius; they were at length acknowledged by all
authorities worthy of the name, Catholic as well as Protestant,
to be simply--like the Isidorian Decretals--pious frauds.

Thus arose an atmosphere of criticism very different from the
atmosphere of literary docility and acquiescence of the "Ages of
Faith"; thus it came that great scholars in all parts of Europe
began to realize, as never before, the part which theological
skill and ecclesiastical zeal had taken in the development of
spurious sacred literature; thus was stimulated a new energy in
research into all ancient documents, no matter what their claims.
To strengthen this feeling and to intensify the stimulating
qualities of this new atmosphere came, as we have seen, the
researches and revelations of Valla regarding the forged Letter
of Christ to Abgarus, the fraudulent Donation of Constantine,
and the late date of the Apostles' Creed; and, to give this
feeling direction toward the Hebrew and Christian sacred books,
came the example of Erasmus.[474]

[474] For very fair statements regarding the great forged
documents of the Middle Ages, see Addis and Arnold, Catholic
Dictionary, articles Dionysius the Areopagite and False
Decretals, and in the latter the curious acknowledgment that the
mass of pseudo-Isidorian Decretals "is what we now call a

For the derivation of Dionysius's ideas from St. Paul, and for
the idea of inspiration attributed to him, see Albertus Magnus,
Opera Omnia, vol. xiii, early chapters and chap. vi. For very
interesting details on this general subject, see Dollinger, Das
Papstthum, chap. ii; also his Fables respecting the Popes of the
Middle Ages, translated by Plummer and H. B. Smith, part i, chap.
v. Of the exposure of these works, see Farrar, as above, pp.
254, 255; also Beard, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 4, 354. For the
False Decretals, see Milman, History of Latin Christianity, vol.
ii, pp. 373 et seq. For the great work of the pseudo-Dionysius,
see ibid., vol. iii, p. 352, and vol. vi, pp. 402 et seq., and
Canon Westcott's article on Dionysius the Areopagite in vol. v of
the Contemporary Review; also the chapters on Astronomy in this

Naturally, then, in this new atmosphere the bolder scholars of
Europe soon began to push more vigorously the researches begun
centuries before by Aben Ezra, and the next efforts of these men
were seen about the middle of the seventeenth century, when
Hobbes, in his Leviathan, and La Pevrere, in his Preadamites,
took them up and developed them still further. The result came
speedily. Hobbes, for this and other sins, was put under the
ban, even by the political party which sorely needed him, and was
regarded generally as an outcast; while La Peyrere, for this and
other heresies, was thrown into prison by the Grand Vicar of
Mechlin, and kept there until he fully retracted: his book was
refuted by seven theologians within a year after its appearance,
and within a generation thirty-six elaborate answers to it had
appeared: the Parliament of Paris ordered it to be burned by the

In 1670 came an utterance vastly more important, by a man far
greater than any of these--the Tractatus Thrologico-Politicus of
Spinoza. Reverently but firmly he went much more deeply into
the subject. Suggesting new arguments and recasting the old, he
summed up all with judicial fairness, and showed that Moses could
not have been the author of the Pentateuch in the form then
existing; that there had been glosses and revisions; that the
biblical books had grown up as a literature; that, though great
truths are to be found in them, and they are to be regarded as a
divine revelation, the old claims of inerrancy for them can not
be maintained; that in studying them men had been misled by
mistaking human conceptions for divine meanings; that, while
prophets have been inspired, the prophetic faculty has not been
the dowry of the Jewish people alone; that to look for exact
knowledge of natural and spiritual phenomena in the sacred books
is an utter mistake; and that the narratives of the Old and New
Testaments, while they surpass those of profane history, differ
among themselves not only in literary merit, but in the value of
the doctrines they inculcate. As to the authorship of the
Pentateuch, he arrived at the conclusion that it was written long
after Moses, but that Moses may have written some books from
which it was compiled--as, for example, those which are mentioned
in the Scriptures, the Book of the Wars of God, the Book of the
Covenant, and the like--and that the many repetitions and
contradictions in the various books show a lack of careful
editing as well as a variety of original sources. Spinoza then
went on to throw light into some other books of the Old and New
Testaments, and added two general statements which have proved
exceedingly serviceable, for they contain the germs of all modern
broad churchmanship; and the first of them gave the formula
which was destined in our own time to save to the Anglican Church
a large number of her noblest sons: this was, that "sacred
Scripture CONTAINS the Word of God, and in so far as it contains
it is incorruptible"; the second was, that "error in speculative
doctrine is not impious."

Though published in various editions, the book seemed to produce
little effect upon the world at that time; but its result to
Spinoza himself was none the less serious. Though so deeply
religious that Novalis spoke of him as "a God-intoxicated man,"
and Schleiermacher called him a "saint," he had been, for the
earlier expression of some of the opinions it contained, abhorred
as a heretic both by Jews and Christians: from the synagogue he
was cut off by a public curse, and by the Church he was now
regarded as in some sort a forerunner of Antichrist. For all
this, he showed no resentment, but devoted himself quietly to his
studies, and to the simple manual labour by which he supported
himself; declined all proffered honours, among them a
professorship at Heidelberg; found pleasure only in the society
of a few friends as gentle and affectionate as himself; and died
contentedly, without seeing any widespread effect of his doctrine
other than the prevailing abhorrence of himself.

Perhaps in all the seventeenth century there was no man whom
Jesus of Nazareth would have more deeply loved, and no life which
he would have more warmly approved; yet down to a very recent
period this hatred for Spinoza has continued. When, about 1880,
it was proposed to erect a monument to him at Amsterdam,
discourses were given in churches and synagogues prophesying the
wrath of Heaven upon the city for such a profanation; and when
the monument was finished, the police were obliged to exert
themselves to prevent injury to the statue and to the eminent
scholars who unveiled it.

But the ideas of Spinoza at last secured recognition. They had
sunk deeply into the hearts and minds of various leaders of
thought, and, most important of all, into the heart and mind of
Lessing; he brought them to bear in his treatise on the
Education of the World, as well as in his drama, Nathan the Wise,
and both these works have spoken with power to every generation

In France, also, came the same healthful evolution of thought.
For generations scholars had known that multitudes of errors had
crept into the sacred text. Robert Stephens had found over two
thousand variations in the oldest manuscripts of the Old
Testament, and in 1633 Jean Morin, a priest of the Oratory,
pointed out clearly many of the most glaring of these.
Seventeen years later, in spite of the most earnest Protestant
efforts to suppress his work, Cappellus gave forth his Critica
Sacra, demonstrating not only that the vowel pointing of
Scripture was not divinely inspired, but that the Hebrew text
itself, from which the modern translations were made, is full of
errors due to the carelessness, ignorance, and doctrinal zeal of
early scribes, and that there had clearly been no miraculous
preservation of the "original autographs" of the sacred books.

While orthodox France was under the uneasiness and alarm thus
caused, appeared a Critical History of the Old Testament by
Richard Simon, a priest of the Oratory. He was a thoroughly
religious man and an acute scholar, whose whole purpose was to
develop truths which he believed healthful to the Church and to
mankind. But he denied that Moses was the author of the
Pentateuch, and exhibited the internal evidence, now so well
known, that the books were composed much later by various
persons, and edited later still. He also showed that other
parts of the Old Testament had been compiled from older sources,
and attacked the time-honoured theory that Hebrew was the
primitive language of mankind. The whole character of his book
was such that in these days it would pass, on the whole, as
conservative and orthodox; it had been approved by the censor in
1678, and printed, when the table of contents and a page of the
preface were shown to Bossuet. The great bishop and theologian
was instantly aroused; he pronounced the work "a mass of
impieties and a bulwark of irreligion"; his biographer tells us
that, although it was Holy Thursday, the bishop, in spite of the
solemnity of the day, hastened at once to the Chancellor Le
Tellier, and secured an order to stop the publication of the book
and to burn the whole edition of it. Fortunately, a few copies
were rescued, and a few years later the work found a new
publisher in Holland; yet not until there had been attached to
it, evidently by some Protestant divine of authority, an essay
warning the reader against its dangerous doctrines. Two years
later a translation was published in England.

This first work of Simon was followed by others, in which he
sought, in the interest of scriptural truth, to throw a new and
purer light upon our sacred literature; but Bossuet proved
implacable. Although unable to suppress all of Simon's works,
he was able to drive him from the Oratory, and to bring him into
disrepute among the very men who ought to have been proud of him
as Frenchmen and thankful to him as Christians.

But other scholars of eminence were now working in this field,
and chief among them Le Clerc. Virtually driven out of Geneva,
he took refuge at Amsterdam, and there published a series of
works upon the Hebrew language, the interpretation of Scripture,
and the like. In these he combated the prevalent idea that
Hebrew was the primitive tongue, expressed the opinion that in
the plural form of the word used in Genesis for God, "Elohim,"
there is a trace of Chaldean polytheism, and, in his discussion
on the serpent who tempted Eve, curiously anticipated modern
geological and zoological ideas by quietly confessing his
inability to see how depriving the serpent of feet and compelling
him to go on his belly could be punishment--since all this was
natural to the animal. He also ventured quasi-scientific
explanations of the confusion of tongues at Babel, the
destruction of Sodom, the conversion of Lot's wife into a pillar
of salt, and the dividing of the Red Sea. As to the Pentateuch
in general, he completely rejected the idea that it was written
by Moses. But his most permanent gift to the thinking world was
his answer to those who insisted upon the reference by Christ and
his apostles to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. The
answer became a formula which has proved effective from his day
to ours: "Our Lord and his apostles did not come into this world
to teach criticism to the Jews, and hence spoke according to the
common opinion."

Against all these scholars came a theological storm, but it raged
most pitilessly against Le Clerc. Such renowned theologians as
Carpzov in Germany, Witsius in Holland, and Huet in France
berated him unmercifully and overwhelmed him with assertions
which still fill us with wonder. That of Huet, attributing the
origin of pagan as well as Christian theology to Moses, we have
already seen; but Carpzov showed that Protestantism could not be
outdone by Catholicism when he declared, in the face of all
modern knowledge, that not only the matter but the exact form and
words of the Bible had been divinely transmitted to the modern
world free from all error.

At this Le Clerc stood aghast, and finally stammered out a sort
of half recantation.[475]

[475] For Carlstadt, and Luther's dealings with him on various
accounts, see Meyer, Geschichte der exegese, vol. ii, pp. 373,
397. As to the value of Maes's work in general, see Meyer, vol.
ii, p. 125; and as to the sort of work in question, ibid., vol.
iii, p. 425, note. For Carlstadt, see also Farrar, History of
Interpretation, and Moore's introduction, as above. For Hobbes's
view that the Pentateuch was written long after Moses's day, see
the Leviathan, vol. iii, p. 33. For La Peyrere's view, see
especially his Prae-Adamitae, lib. iv, chap. ii, also lib. ii,
passim; also Lecky, Rationalism in Europe, vol. i, p. 294; also
interesting points in Bayle's Dictionary. For Spinoza's view,
see the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, chaps. ii and iii, and
for the persecution, see the various biographies. Details
regarding the demonstration against the unveiling of his statue
were given to the present writer at the time by Berthold
Auerbach, who took part in the ceremony. For Morinus and
Cappellus, see Farrar, as above, p. 387 and note. For Richard
Simon, see his Histoire Critique de l'Ancien Testament, liv. i,
chaps. ii, iii, iv, v, and xiii. For his denial of the
prevailing theory regarding Hebrew, see liv. i, chap. iv. For
Morinus (Morin) and his work, see the Biog. Univ. and Nouvelle
Biog. Generale; also Curtiss. For Bousset's opposition to Simon,
see the Histoire de Bousser in the Oeuvres de Bousset, Paris,
1846, tome xii, pp. 330, 331; also t. x, p. 378; also sundry
attacks in various volumes. It is interesting to note that among
the chief instigators of the persecution were the Port-Royalists,
upon whose persecution afterward by the Jesuits so much sympathy
has been lavished by the Protestant world. For Le Clerc, see
especially his Pentateuchus, Prolegom, dissertat. i; also Com. in
Genes., cap. vi-viii. For a translation of selected passages on
the points noted, see Twelve Dissertations out of Monsieur
LeClerc's Genesis, done out of Latin by Mr. Brown, London, 1696;
also Le Clerc's Sentiments de Quelques Theologiens de Hollande,
passim; also his work on Inspiration, English translation,
Boston, 1820, pp. 47-50, also 57-67. For Witsius and Carpzov,
see Curtiss, as above. For some subordinate points in the
earlier growth of the opinion at present dominant, see Briggs,
The Higher Criticism of the Hexateuch, New York, 1893, chap. iv.

During the eighteenth century constant additions were made to the
enormous structure of orthodox scriptural interpretation, some of
them gaining the applause of the Christian world then, though
nearly all are utterly discredited now. But in 1753 appeared
two contributions of permanent influence, though differing vastly
in value. In the comparative estimate of these two works the
world has seen a remarkable reversal of public opinion.

The first of these was Bishop Lowth's Prelections upon the Sacred
Poetry of the Hebrews. In this was well brought out that
characteristic of Hebrew poetry to which it owes so much of its
peculiar charm--its parallelism.

The second of these books was Astruc's Conjectures on the
Original Memoirs which Moses used in composing the Book of
Genesis. In this was for the first time clearly revealed the
fact that, amid various fragments of old writings, at least two
main narratives enter into the composition of Genesis; that in
the first of these is generally used as an appellation of the
Almighty the word "Elohim," and in the second the word "Yahveh"
(Jehovah); that each narrative has characteristics of its own,
in thought and expression, which distinguish it from the other;
that, by separating these, two clear and distinct narratives may
be obtained, each consistent with itself, and that thus, and thus
alone, can be explained the repetitions, discrepancies, and
contradictions in Genesis which so long baffled the ingenuity of
commentators, especially the two accounts of the creation, so
utterly inconsistent with each other.

Interesting as was Lowth's book, this work by Astruc was, as the
thinking world now acknowledges, infinitely more important; it
was, indeed, the most valuable single contribution ever made to
biblical study. But such was not the judgment of the world
THEN. While Lowth's book was covered with honour and its author
promoted from the bishopric of St. David's to that of London,
and even offered the primacy, Astruc and his book were covered
with reproach. Though, as an orthodox Catholic, he had mainly
desired to reassert the authorship of Moses against the argument
of Spinoza, he received no thanks on that account. Theologians
of all creeds sneered at him as a doctor of medicine who had
blundered beyond his province; his fellow-Catholics in France
bitterly denounced him as a heretic; and in Germany the great
Protestant theologian, Michaelis, who had edited and exalted
Lowth's work, poured contempt over Astruc as an ignoramus.

The case of Astruc is one of the many which show the wonderful
power of the older theological reasoning to close the strongest
minds against the clearest truths. The fact which he discovered
is now as definitely established as any in the whole range of
literature or science. It has become as clear as the day, and
yet for two thousand years the minds of professional theologians,
Jewish and Christian, were unable to detect it. Not until this
eminent physician applied to the subject a mind trained in making
scientific distinctions was it given to the world.

It was, of course, not possible even for so eminent a scholar as
Michaelis to pooh-pooh down a discovery so pregnant; and,
curiously enough, it was one of Michaelis's own scholars,
Eichhorn, who did the main work in bringing the new truth to bear
upon the world. He, with others, developed out of it the theory
that Genesis, and indeed the Pentateuch, is made up entirely of
fragments of old writings, mainly disjointed. But they did far
more than this: they impressed upon the thinking part of
Christendom the fact that the Bible is not a BOOK, but a
LITERATURE; that the style is not supernatural and unique, but
simply the Oriental style of the lands and times in which its
various parts were written; and that these must be studied in
the light of the modes of thought and statement and the literary
habits generally of Oriental peoples. From Eichhorn's time the
process which, by historical, philological, and textual research,
brings out the truth regarding this literature has been known as
"the higher criticism."

He was a deeply religious man, and the mainspring of his efforts
was the desire to bring back to the Church the educated classes,
who had been repelled by the stiff Lutheran orthodoxy; but this
only increased hostility to him. Opposition met him in Germany
at every turn; and in England, Lloyd, Regius Professor of Hebrew
at Cambridge, who sought patronage for a translation of
Eichhorn's work, was met generally with contempt and frequently
with insult.

Throughout Catholic Germany it was even worse. In 1774
Isenbiehl, a priest at Mayence who had distinguished himself as a
Greek and Hebrew scholar, happened to question the usual
interpretation of the passage in Isaiah which refers to the
virgin-born Immanuel, and showed then--what every competent
critic knows now--that it had reference to events looked for in
older Jewish history. The censorship and faculty of theology
attacked him at once and brought him before the elector.
Luckily, this potentate was one of the old easy-going
prince-bishops, and contented himself with telling the priest
that, though his contention was perhaps true, he "must remain in
the old paths, and avoid everything likely to make trouble."

But at the elector's death, soon afterward, the theologians
renewed the attack, threw Isenbiehl out of his professorship and
degraded him. One insult deserves mention for its ingenuity.
It was declared that he--the successful and brilliant
professor--showed by the obnoxious interpretation that he had not
yet rightly learned the Scriptures; he was therefore sent back
to the benches of the theological school, and made to take his
seat among the ingenuous youth who were conning the rudiments of
theology. At this he made a new statement, so carefully guarded
that it disarmed many of his enemies, and his high scholarship
soon won for him a new professorship of Greek--the condition
being that he should cease writing upon Scripture. But a crafty
bookseller having republished his former book, and having
protected himself by keeping the place and date of publication
secret, a new storm fell upon the author; he was again removed
from his professorship and thrown into prison; his book was
forbidden, and all copies of it in that part of Germany were
confiscated. In 1778, having escaped from prison, he sought
refuge with another of the minor rulers who in blissful
unconsciousness were doing their worst while awaiting the French
Revolution, but was at once delivered up to the Mayence
authorities and again thrown into prison.

The Pope, Pius VI, now intervened with a brief on Isenbiehl's
book, declaring it "horrible, false, perverse, destructive,
tainted with heresy," and excommunicating all who should read it.
At this, Isenbiehl, declaring that he had written it in the hope
of doing a service to the Church, recanted, and vegetated in
obscurity until his death in 1818.

But, despite theological faculties, prince-bishops, and even
popes, the new current of thought increased in strength and
volume, and into it at the end of the eighteenth century came
important contributions from two sources widely separated and
most dissimilar.

The first of these, which gave a stimulus not yet exhausted, was
the work of Herder. By a remarkable intuition he had
anticipated some of those ideas of an evolutionary process in
nature and in literature which first gained full recognition
nearly three quarters of a century after him; but his greatest
service in the field of biblical study was his work, at once
profound and brilliant, The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry. In this
field he eclipsed Bishop Lowth. Among other things of
importance, he showed that the Psalms were by different authors
and of different periods--the bloom of a great poetic literature.

Until his time no one had so clearly done justice to their
sublimity and beauty; but most striking of all was his discussion
of Solomon's Song. For over twenty centuries it had been
customary to attribute to it mystical meanings. If here and
there some man saw the truth, he was careful, like Aben Ezra, to
speak with bated breath.

The penalty for any more honest interpretation was seen, among
Protestants, when Calvin and Beza persecuted Castellio, covered
him with obloquy, and finally drove him to starvation and death,
for throwing light upon the real character of the Song of Songs;
and among Catholics it was seen when Philip II allowed the pious
and gifted Luis de Leon, for a similar offence, to be thrown into
a dungeon of the Inquisition and kept there for five years, until
his health was utterly shattered and his spirit so broken that he
consented to publish a new commentary on the song, "as
theological and obscure as the most orthodox could desire."

Here, too, we have an example of the efficiency of the older
biblical theology in fettering the stronger minds and in
stupefying the weaker. Just as the book of Genesis had to wait
over two thousand years for a physician to reveal the simplest
fact regarding its structure, so the Song of Songs had to wait
even longer for a poet to reveal not only its beauty but its
character. Commentators innumerable had interpreted it; St.
Bernard had preached over eighty sermons on its first two
chapters; Palestrina had set its most erotic parts to sacred
music; Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants, from Origen
to Aben Ezra and from Luther to Bossuet, had uncovered its deep
meanings and had demonstrated it to be anything and everything
save that which it really is. Among scores of these strange
imaginations it was declared to represent the love of Jehovah for
Israel; the love of Christ for the Church; the praises of the
Blessed Virgin; the union of the soul with the body; sacred
history from the Exodus to the Messiah; Church history from the
Crucifixion to the Reformation; and some of the more acute
Protestant divines found in it references even to the religious
wars in Germany and to the Peace of Passau. In these days it
seems hard to imagine how really competent reasoners could thus
argue without laughing in each other's faces, after the manner of
Cicero's augurs. Herder showed Solomon's Song to be what the
whole thinking world now knows it to be--simply an Oriental

But his frankness brought him into trouble: he was bitterly
assailed. Neither his noble character nor his genius availed
him. Obliged to flee from one pastorate to another, he at last
found a happy refuge at Weimar in the society of Goethe, Wieland,
and Jean Paul, and thence he exercised a powerful influence in
removing noxious and parasitic growths from religious thought.

It would hardly be possible to imagine a man more different from
Herder than was the other of the two who most influenced biblical
interpretation at the end of the eighteenth century. This was
Alexander Geddes--a Roman Catholic priest and a Scotchman.
Having at an early period attracted much attention by his
scholarship, and having received the very rare distinction, for a
Catholic, of a doctorate from the University of Aberdeen, he
began publishing in 1792 a new translation of the Old Testament,
and followed this in 1800 with a volume of critical remarks. In
these he supported mainly three views: first, that the
Pentateuch in its present form could not have been written by
Moses; secondly, that it was the work of various hands; and,
thirdly, that it could not have been written before the time of
David. Although there was a fringe of doubtful theories about
them, these main conclusions, supported as they were by deep
research and cogent reasoning, are now recognised as of great
value. But such was not the orthodox opinion then. Though a man
of sincere piety, who throughout his entire life remained firm in
the faith of his fathers, he and his work were at once condemned:
he was suspended by the Catholic authorities as a misbeliever,
denounced by Protestants as an infidel, and taunted by both as "a
would-be corrector of the Holy Ghost." Of course, by this taunt
was meant nothing more than that he dissented from sundry ideas
inherited from less enlightened times by the men who just then
happened to wield ecclesiastical power.

But not all the opposition to him could check the evolution of
his thought. A line of great men followed in these paths opened
by Astruc and Eichhorn, and broadened by Herder and Geddes. Of
these was De Wette, whose various works, especially his
Introduction to the Old Testament, gave a new impulse early in
the nineteenth century to fruitful thought throughout
Christendom. In these writings, while showing how largely myths
and legends had entered into the Hebrew sacred books, he threw
especial light into the books Deuteronomy and Chronicles. The
former he showed to be, in the main, a late priestly summary of
law, and the latter a very late priestly recast of early history.
He had, indeed, to pay a penalty for thus aiding the world in its
march toward more truth, for he was driven out of Germany, and
obliged to take refuge in a Swiss professorship; while Theodore
Parker, who published an English translation of his work, was,
for this and similar sins, virtually rejected by what claimed to
be the most liberal of all Christian bodies in the United States.

But contributions to the new thought continued from quarters
whence least was expected. Gesenius, by his Hebrew Grammar, and
Ewald, by his historical studies, greatly advanced it.

To them and to all like them during the middle years of the
nineteenth century was sturdily opposed the colossus of
orthodoxy--Hengstenberg. In him was combined the haughtiness of
a Prussian drill-sergeant, the zeal of a Spanish inquisitor, and
the flippant brutality of a French orthodox journalist. Behind
him stood the gifted but erratic Frederick William IV--a man
admirably fitted for a professorship of aesthetics, but whom an
inscrutable fate had made King of Prussia. Both these rulers in
the German Israel arrayed all possible opposition against the
great scholars labouring in the new paths; but this opposition
was vain: the succession of acute and honest scholars continued:
Vatke, Bleek, Reuss, Graf, Kayser, Hupfeld, Delitzsch, Kuenen,
and others wrought on in Germany and Holland, steadily developing
the new truth.

Especially to be mentioned among these is Hupfeld, who published
in 1853 his treatise on The Sources of Genesis. Accepting the
Conjectures which Astruc had published just a hundred years
before, he established what has ever since been recognised by the
leading biblical commentators as the true basis of work upon the
Pentateuch--the fact that THREE true documents are combined in
Genesis, each with its own characteristics. He, too, had to pay
a price for letting more light upon the world. A determined
attempt was made to punish him. Though deeply religious in his
nature and aspirations, he was denounced in 1865 to the Prussian
Government as guilty of irreverence; but, to the credit of his
noble and true colleagues who trod in the more orthodox
paths--men like Tholuck and Julius Muller--the theological
faculty of the University of Halle protested against this
persecuting effort, and it was brought to naught.

The demonstrations of Hupfeld gave new life to biblical
scholarship in all lands. More and more clear became the
evidence that throughout the Pentateuch, and indeed in other
parts of our sacred books, there had been a fusion of various
ideas, a confounding of various epochs, and a compilation of
various documents. Thus was opened a new field of thought and
work: in sifting out this literature; in rearranging it; and in
bringing it into proper connection with the history of the Jewish
race and of humanity.

Astruc and Hupfeld having thus found a key to the true character
of the "Mosaic" Scriptures, a second key was found which opened
the way to the secret of order in all this chaos. For many
generations one thing had especially puzzled commentators and
given rise to masses of futile "reconciliation": this was the
patent fact that such men as Samuel, David, Elijah, Isaiah, and
indeed the whole Jewish people down to the Exile, showed in all
their utterances and actions that they were utterly ignorant of
that vast system of ceremonial law which, according to the
accounts attributed to Moses and other parts of our sacred books,
was in full force during their time and during nearly a thousand
years before the Exile. It was held "always, everywhere, and by
all," that in the Old Testament the chronological order of
revelation was: first, the law; secondly, the Psalms; thirdly,
the prophets. This belief continued unchallenged during more
than two thousand years, and until after the middle of the
nineteenth century.

Yet, as far back as 1835, Vatke at Berlin had, in his Religion of
the Old Testament, expressed his conviction that this belief was
unfounded. Reasoning that Jewish thought must have been subject
to the laws of development which govern other systems, he arrived
at the conclusion that the legislation ascribed to Moses, and
especially the elaborate paraphernalia and composite ceremonies
of the ritual, could not have come into being at a period so rude
as that depicted in the "Mosaic" accounts.

Although Vatke wrapped this statement in a mist of Hegelian
metaphysics, a sufficient number of watchmen on the walls of the
Prussian Zion saw its meaning, and an alarm was given. The
chroniclers tell us that "fear of failing in the examinations,
through knowing too much, kept students away from Vatke's
lectures." Naturally, while Hengstenberg and Frederick William
IV were commanding the forces of orthodoxy, Vatke thought it wise
to be silent.

Still, the new idea was in the air; indeed, it had been divined
about a year earlier, on the other side of the Rhine, by a
scholar well known as acute and thoughtful--Reuss, of Strasburg.
Unfortunately, he too was overawed, and he refrained from
publishing his thought during more than forty years. But his
ideas were caught by some of his most gifted scholars; and, of
these, Graf and Kayser developed them and had the courage to
publish them.

At the same period this new master key was found and applied by a
greater man than any of these--by Kuenen, of Holland; and thus
it was that three eminent scholars, working in different parts of
Europe and on different lines, in spite of all obstacles, joined
in enforcing upon the thinking world the conviction that the
complete Levitical law had been established not at the beginning,
but at the end, of the Jewish nation--mainly, indeed, after the
Jewish nation as an independent political body had ceased to
exist; that this code had not been revealed in the childhood of
Israel, but that it had come into being in a perfectly natural
way during Israel's final decay--during the period when heroes
and prophets had been succeeded by priests. Thus was the
historical and psychological evolution of Jewish institutions
brought into harmony with the natural development of human
thought; elaborate ceremonial institutions being shown to have
come after the ruder beginnings of religious development instead
of before them. Thus came a new impulse to research, and the
fruitage was abundant; the older theological interpretation,
with its insoluble puzzles, yielded on all sides.

The lead in the new epoch thus opened was taken by Kuenen.
Starting with strong prepossessions in favour of the older
thought, and even with violent utterances against some of the
supporters of the new view, he was borne on by his love of truth,
until his great work, The Religion of Israel, published in 1869,
attracted the attention of thinking scholars throughout the world
by its arguments in favour of the upward movement. From him now
came a third master key to the mystery; for he showed that the
true opening point for research into the history and literature
of Israel is to be found in the utterances of the great prophets
of the eighth century before our era. Starting from these, he
opened new paths into the periods preceding and following them.
Recognising the fact that the religion of Israel was, like other
great world religions, a development of higher ideas out of
lower, he led men to bring deeper thinking and wider research
into the great problem. With ample learning and irresistible
logic he proved that Old Testament history is largely mingled
with myth and legend; that not only were the laws attributed to
Moses in the main a far later development, but that much of their
historical setting was an afterthought; also that Old Testament
prophecy was never supernaturally predictive, and least of all
predictive of events recorded in the New Testament. Thus it was
that his genius gave to the thinking world a new point of view,
and a masterly exhibition of the true method of study. Justly
has one of the most eminent divines of the contemporary Anglican
Church indorsed the statement of another eminent scholar, that
"Kuenen stood upon his watch-tower, as it were the conscience of
Old Testament science"; that his work is characterized "not
merely by fine scholarship, critical insight, historical sense,
and a religious nature, but also by an incorruptible
conscientiousness, and a majestic devotion to the quest of

Thus was established the science of biblical criticism. And now
the question was, whether the Church of northern Germany would
accept this great gift--the fruit of centuries of devoted toil
and self-sacrifice--and take the lead of Christendom in and by

The great curse of Theology and Ecclesiasticism has always been
their tendency to sacrifice large interests to small--Charity to
Creed, Unity to Uniformity, Fact to Tradition, Ethics to Dogma.
And now there were symptoms throughout the governing bodies of
the Reformed churches indicating a determination to sacrifice
leadership in this new thought to ease in orthodoxy. Every
revelation of new knowledge encountered outcry, opposition, and
repression; and, what was worse, the ill-judged declarations of
some unwise workers in the critical field were seized upon and
used to discredit all fruitful research. Fortunately, a man now
appeared who both met all this opposition successfully, and put
aside all the half truths or specious untruths urged by minor
critics whose zeal outran their discretion. This was a great
constructive scholar--not a destroyer, but a builder--Wellhausen.
Reverently, but honestly and courageously, with clearness,
fulness, and convicting force, he summed up the conquests of
scientific criticism as bearing on Hebrew history and literature.
These conquests had reduced the vast structures which theologians
had during ages been erecting over the sacred text to shapeless
ruin and rubbish: this rubbish he removed, and brought out from
beneath it the reality. He showed Jewish history as an
evolution obedient to laws at work in all ages, and Jewish
literature as a growth out of individual, tribal, and national
life. Thus was our sacred history and literature given a beauty
and high use which had long been foreign to them. Thereby was a
vast service rendered immediately to Germany, and eventually to
all mankind; and this service was greatest of all in the domain
of religion.[476]

[476] For Lowth, see the Rev. T. K. Cheyne, D. D., Professor of
the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture in the University of
Oxford, Founders of the Old Testament Criticism, London, 1893,
pp. 3, 4. For Astruc's very high character as a medical
authority, see the Dictionnaire des Sciences Medicales, Paris,
1820; it is significant that at first he concealed his authorship
of the Conjectures. For a brief statement, see Cheyne; also
Moore's introduction to Bacon's Genesis of Genesis; but for a
statement remarkably full and interesting, and based on knowlegde
at first hand of Astruc's very rare book, see Curtiss, as above.
For Michaelis and Eichorn, see Meyer, Geschichte der Exegese;
also Cheyne and Moore. For Isenbiehl, see Reusch, in Allg.
deutsche Biographie. The texts cited against him were Isaiah vii,
14, and Matt. i, 22, 23. For Herder, see various historians of
literature and writers in exegesis, and especially Pfleiderer,
Development of Theology in Germany, chap. ii. For his influence,
as well as that of Lessing, see Beard's Hibbert Lectures, chap.
x. For a brief comparison of Lowth's work with that of Herder,
see Farrar, History of Interpretation, p. 377. For examples of
interpretations of the Song of Songs, see Farrar, as above, p.
33. For Castellio (Chatillon), his anticipation of Herder's view
of Solomon's Song, and his persecution by Calvin and Beza, which
drove him to starvation and death, see Lecky, Rationalism, etc.,
vol. ii, pp. 46-48; also Bayle's Dictionary, article Castalio;
also Montaigne's Essais, liv,. i, chap. xxxiv; and especially the
new life of him by Buisson. For the persecution of Luis de Leon
for a similar offence, see Ticknor, History of Spanish
Literature, vol. ii, pp. 41, 42, and note. For a remarkably
frank acceptance of the consequences flowing from Herder's view
of it, see Sanday, Inspiration, pp. 211, 405. For Geddes, see
Cheyne, as above. For Theodore Parker, see his various
biographies, passim. For Reuss, Graf, and Kuenen, see Cheyne, as
above; and for the citations referred to, see the Rev. Dr.
Driver, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, in The Academy,
October 27, 1894; also a note to Wellhausen's article Pentateuch
in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. For a generous yet weighty
tribute to Kuenen's method, see Pfleiderer, as above, book iii,
chap. ii. For the view of leading Christian critics on the book

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