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Occasional Papers by R.W. Church

Part 3 out of 6

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only, but warmhearted, and not occupied so much with his own plans
that he could not attend to a case of distress or mental
perplexity. They found him full of sympathy and appreciation,
dropping words of praise, ejaculations of admiration, tears. He
surrounded himself with those who had tasted of his bounty, sick
people whom he had cured, lepers whose death-in-life, demoniacs
whose hell-in-life, he had terminated with a single powerful word.
Among these came loving hearts who thanked him for friends and
relatives rescued for them out of the jaws of premature death, and
others whom he had saved, by a power which did not seem different,
from vice and degradation.

This temperance in the use of supernatural power is the
masterpiece of Christ. It is a moral miracle superinduced upon a
physical one. This repose in greatness makes him surely the most
sublime image ever offered to the human imagination. And it is
precisely this trait which gave him his immense and immediate
ascendency over men. If the question be put--Why was Christ so
successful?--Why did men gather round him at his call, form
themselves into a new society according to his wish, and accept
him with unbounded devotion as their legislator and judge? some
will answer, Because of the miracles which attested his divine
character; others, Because of the intrinsic beauty and divinity of
the great law of love which he propounded. But miracles, as we
have seen, have not by themselves this persuasive power. That a
man possesses a strange power which I cannot understand is no
reason why I should receive his words as divine oracles of truth.
The powerful man is not of necessity also wise; his power may
terrify and yet not convince. On the other hand, the law of love,
however divine, was but a precept. Undoubtedly it deserved that
men should accept it for its intrinsic worth, but men are not
commonly so eager to receive the words of wise men nor so
unbounded in their gratitude to them. It was neither for his
miracles nor for the beauty of his doctrine that Christ was
worshipped. Nor was it for his winning personal character, nor for
the persecutions he endured, nor for his martyrdom. It was for the
inimitable unity which all these things made when taken together.
In other words, it was for this that he whose power and greatness
as shown in his miracles were overwhelming denied himself the use
of his power, treated it as a slight thing, walked among men as
though he were one of them, relieved them in distress, taught them
to love each other, bore with undisturbed patience a perpetual
hailstorm of calumny; and when his enemies grew fiercer, continued
still to endure their attacks in silence, until, petrified and
bewildered with astonishment, men saw him arrested and put to
death with torture, refusing steadfastly to use in his own behalf
the power he conceived he held for the benefit of others. It was
the combination of greatness and self-sacrifice which won their
hearts, the mighty powers held under a mighty control, the
unspeakable condescension, the _Cross_ of _Christ_.

And he goes on to describe the effect upon the world; and what it was
that "drew all men unto Him":--

To sum up the results of this chapter. We began by remarking that
an astonishing plan met with an astonishing success, and we raised
the question to what instrumentality that success was due. Christ
announced himself as the Founder and Legislator of a new Society,
and as the Supreme Judge of men. Now by what means did he procure
that these immense pretensions should be allowed? He might have
done it by sheer power, he might have adopted persuasion, and
pointed out the merits of the scheme and of the legislation he
proposed to introduce. But he adopted a third plan, which had the
effect not merely of securing obedience, but of exciting
enthusiasm and devotion. He laid men under an immense
_obligation_. He convinced them that he was a person of altogether
transcendent greatness, one who needed nothing at their hands, one
whom it was impossible to benefit by conferring riches, or fame,
or dominion upon him, and that, being so great, he had devoted
himself of mere benevolence to their good. He showed them that for
their sakes he lived a hard and laborious life, and exposed
himself to the utmost malice of powerful men. They saw him hungry,
though they believed him able to turn the stones into bread; they
saw his royal pretensions spurned, though they believed that he
could in a moment take into his hand all the kingdoms of the world
and the glory of them; they saw his life in danger; they saw him
at last expire in agonies, though they believed that, had he so
willed it, no danger could harm him, and that had he thrown
himself from the topmost pinnacle of the temple he would have been
softly received in the arms of ministering angels. Witnessing his
sufferings, and convinced by the miracles they saw him work that
they were voluntarily endured, men's hearts were touched, and pity
for weakness blending strangely with wondering admiration of
unlimited power, an agitation of gratitude, sympathy, and
astonishment, such as nothing else could ever excite, sprang up in
them; and when, turning from his deeds to his words, they found
this very self-denial which had guided his own life prescribed as
the principle which should guide theirs, gratitude broke forth in
joyful obedience, self-denial produced self-denial, and the Law
and Lawgiver together were enshrined in their inmost hearts for
inseparable veneration.

It is plain that whatever there is novel in such a line of argument
must depend upon the way in which it is handled; and it is the
extraordinary and sustained power with which this is done which gives
its character to the book. The writer's method consists in realising
with a depth of feeling and thought which it would not be easy to
match, what our Lord was in His human ministry, as that ministry is set
before us by those who witnessed it; and next, in showing in detail the
connection of that ministry, which wrought so much by teaching, but
still more by the Divine example, "not sparing words but resting most
on deeds," with all that is highest, purest, and best in the morality
of Christendom, and with what is most fruitful and most hopeful in the
differences between the old world and our own. We cannot think we are
wrong when we say that no one could speak of our Lord as this writer
speaks, with the enthusiasm, the overwhelming sense of His
inexpressible authority, of His unapproachable perfection, with the
profound faith which lays everything at His feet, and not also believe
all that the Divine Society which Christ founded has believed about
Him. And though for the present his subject is history, and human
morality as it appears to have been revolutionised and finally fixed by
that history, and not the theology which subsequent in date is yet the
foundation of both, it is difficult to imagine any reader going along
with him and not breaking out at length into the burst, "My Lord and my
God." If it is not so, then the phenomenon is strange indeed; for a
belief below the highest and truest has produced an appreciation, a
reverence, an adoration which the highest belief has only produced in
the choicest examples of those who have had it, and by the side of
which the ordinary exhibitions of the divine history are pale and
feeble. To few, indeed, as it seems to us, has it been given to feel,
and to make others feel, what in all the marvellous complexity of high
and low, and in all the Divine singleness of His goodness and power,
the Son of Man appeared in the days of His flesh. It is not more vivid
or more wonderful than what the Gospels with so much detail tell us of
that awful ministry in real flesh and blood, with a human soul and with
all the reality of man's nature; but most of us, after all, read the
Gospels with sealed and unwondering eyes. But, dwelling on the Manhood,
so as almost to overpower us with the contrast between the distinct and
living truth and the dead and dull familiarity of our thoughts of
routine and custom, he does so in such a way that it is impossible to
doubt, though the word Incarnation never occurs in the volume, that all
the while he has before his thoughts the "taking of the manhood into
God." What is the Gospel picture?

And let us pause once more to consider that which remains
throughout a subject of ever-recurring astonishment, the unbounded
personal pretensions which Christ advances. It is common in human
history to meet with those who claim some superiority over their
fellows. Men assert a pre-eminence over their fellow-citizens or
fellow-countrymen and become rulers of those who at first were
their equals, but they dream of nothing greater than some partial
control over the actions of others for the short space of a
lifetime. Few indeed are those to whom it is given to influence
future ages. Yet some men have appeared who have been "as levers
to uplift the earth and roll it in another course." Homer by
creating literature, Socrates by creating science, Caesar by
carrying civilisation inland from the shores of the Mediterranean,
Newton by starting science upon a career of steady progress, may
be said to have attained this eminence. But these men gave a
single impact like that which is conceived to have first set the
planets in motion; Christ claims to be a perpetual attractive
power like the sun which determines their orbit. They contributed
to men some discovery and passed away; Christ's discovery is
himself. To humanity struggling with its passions and its destiny
he says, Cling to me, cling ever closer to me. If we believe St.
John, he represented himself as the Light of the world, as the
Shepherd of the souls of men, as the Way to immortality, as the
Vine or Life-tree of humanity. And if we refuse to believe that he
used those words, we cannot deny, without rejecting all the
evidence before us, that he used words which have substantially
the same meaning. We cannot deny that he commanded men to leave
everything and attach themselves to him; that he declared himself
king, master, and judge of men; that he promised to give rest to
all the weary and heavy-laden; that he instructed his followers to
hope for life from feeding on his body and blood.

But it is doubly surprising to observe that these enormous
pretensions were advanced by one whose special peculiarity, not
only among his contemporaries but among the remarkable men that
have appeared before and since, was an almost feminine tenderness
and humility. This characteristic was remarked, as we have seen,
by the Baptist, and Christ himself was fully conscious of it. Yet
so clear to him was his own dignity and infinite importance to the
human race as an objective fact with which his own opinion of
himself had nothing to do, that in the same breath in which he
asserts it in the most unmeasured language, he alludes, apparently
with entire unconsciousness, to his _humility_. "Take my yoke upon
you, and learn of me; _for I am meek and lowly of heart_." And
again, when speaking to his followers of the arrogance of the
Pharisees, he says, "They love to be called Rabbi; but be not you
called Rabbi: _for one is your master, even Christ_."

Who is the humble man? It is he who resists with special
watchfulness and success the temptations which the conditions of
his life may offer to exaggerate his own importance.... If he
judged himself correctly, and if the Baptist described him well
when he compared him to a lamb, and, we may add, if his
biographers have delineated his character faithfully, Christ was
one naturally contented with obscurity, wanting the restless
desire for distinction and eminence which is common in great men,
hating to put forward personal claims, disliking competition and
"disputes who should be greatest," finding something bombastic in
the titles of royalty, fond of what is simple and homely, of
children, of poor people, occupying himself so much with the
concerns of others, with the relief of sickness and want, that the
temptation to exaggerate the importance of his own thoughts and
plans was not likely to master him; lastly, entertaining for the
human race a feeling so singularly fraternal that he was likely to
reject as a sort of treason the impulse to set himself in any
manner above them. Christ, it appears, was this humble man. When
we have fully pondered the fact we may be in a condition to
estimate the force of the evidence which, submitted to his mind,
could induce him, in direct opposition to all his tastes and
instincts, to lay claim, persistently, with the calmness of entire
conviction, in opposition to the whole religious world, in spite
of the offence which his own followers conceived, to a dominion
more transcendent, more universal, more complete, than the most
delirious votary of glory ever aspired to in his dreams.

And what is it that our Lord has done for man by being so truly man?

This then it is which is wanted to raise the feeling of humanity
into an enthusiasm; when the precept of love has been given, an
image must be set before the eyes of those who are called upon to
obey it, an ideal or type of man which may be noble and amiable
enough to raise the whole race and make the meanest member of it
sacred with reflected glory.

Did not Christ do this? Did the command to love go forth to those
who had never seen a human being they could revere? Could his
followers turn upon him and say, How can we love a creature so
degraded, full of vile wants and contemptible passions, whose
little life is most harmlessly spent when it is an empty round of
eating and sleeping; a creature destined for the grave and for
oblivion when his allotted term of fretfulness and folly has
expired? Of this race Christ himself was a member, and to this day
is it not the best answer to all blasphemers of the species, the
best consolation when our sense of its degradation is keenest,
that a human brain was behind his forehead, and a human heart
beating in his breast, and that within the whole creation of God
nothing more elevated or more attractive has yet been found than
he? And if it be answered that there was in his nature something
exceptional and peculiar, that humanity must not be measured by
the stature of Christ, let us remember that it was precisely thus
that he wished it to be measured, delighting to call himself the
Son of Man, delighting to call the meanest of mankind his
brothers. If some human beings are abject and contemptible, if it
be incredible to us that they can have any high dignity or
destiny, do we regard them from so great a height as Christ? Are
we likely to be more pained by their faults and deficiencies than
he was? Is our standard higher than his? And yet he associated by
preference with the meanest of the race; no contempt for them did
he ever express, no suspicion that they might be less dear than
the best and wisest to the common Father, no doubt that they were
naturally capable of rising to a moral elevation like his own.
There is nothing of which a man may be prouder than of this; it is
the most hopeful and redeeming fact in history; it is precisely
what was wanting to raise the love of man as man to enthusiasm. An
eternal glory has been shed upon the human race by the love Christ
bore to it And it was because the Edict of Universal Love went
forth to men whose hearts were in no cynical mood, but possessed
with a spirit of devotion to a man, that words which at any other
time, however grandly they might sound, would have been but words,
penetrated so deeply, and along with the law of love the power of
love was given. Therefore also the first Christians were enabled
to dispense with philosophical phrases, and instead of saying that
they loved the ideal of man in man, could simply say and feel that
they loved Christ in every man.

We have here the very kernel of the Christian moral scheme. We
have distinctly before us the end Christ proposed to himself, and
the means he considered adequate to the attainment of it....

But how to give to the meagre and narrow hearts of men such
enlargement? How to make them capable of a universal sympathy?
Christ believed it possible to bind men to their kind, but on one
condition--that they were first bound fast to himself. He stood
forth as the representative of men, he identified himself with the
cause and with the interests of all human beings; he was destined,
as he began before long obscurely to intimate, to lay down his
life for them. Few of us sympathise originally and directly with
this devotion; few of us can perceive in human nature itself any
merit sufficient to evoke it. But it is not so hard to love and
venerate him who felt it. So vast a passion of love, a devotion so
comprehensive, elevated, deliberate, and profound, has not
elsewhere been in any degree approached save by some of his
imitators. And as love provokes love, many have found it possible
to conceive for Christ an attachment the closeness of which no
words can describe, a veneration so possessing and absorbing the
man within them, that they have said, "I live no more, but Christ
lives in me."

And what, in fact, has been the result, after the utmost and freest
abatement for the objections of those who criticise the philosophical
theories or the practical effects of Christianity?

But that Christ's method, when rightly applied, is really of
mighty force may be shown by an argument which the severest censor
of Christians will hardly refuse to admit. Compare the ancient
with the modern world: "Look on this picture and on that." The
broad distinction in the characters of men forces itself into
prominence. Among all the men of the ancient heathen world there
were scarcely one or two to whom we might venture to apply the
epithet "holy." In other words, there were not more than one or
two, if any, who, besides being virtuous in their actions, were
possessed with an unaffected enthusiasm of goodness, and besides
abstaining from vice, regarded even a vicious thought with horror.
Probably no one will deny that in Christian countries this
higher-toned goodness, which we call holiness, has existed. Few
will maintain that it has been exceedingly rare. Perhaps the truth
is that there has scarcely been a town in any Christian country
since the time of Christ, where a century has passed without
exhibiting a character of such elevation that his mere presence
has shamed the bad and made the good better, and has been felt at
times like the presence of God Himself. And if this be so, has
Christ failed? or can Christianity die?

The principle of feeling and action which Christ implanted in that
Divine Society which He founded, or in other words, His morality, had
two peculiarities; it sprang, and it must spring still, from what this
writer calls all through an "enthusiasm"; and this enthusiasm was
kindled and maintained by the influence of a Person. There can be no
goodness without impulses to goodness, any more than these impulses are
enough without being directed by truth and reason; but the impulses
must come before the guidance, and "Christ's Theocracy" is described
"as a great attempt to set all the virtues of the world on this basis,
and to give it a visible centre and fountain." He thus describes how
personal influence is the great instrument of moral quickening and

How do men become for the most part "pure, generous, and humane"?
By personal, not by logical influences. They have been reared by
parents who had these qualities, they have lived in a society
which had a high tone, they have been accustomed to see just acts
done, to hear gentle words spoken, and the justness and the
gentleness have passed into their hearts, and slowly moulded their
habits and made their moral discernment clear; they remember
commands and prohibitions which it is a pleasure to obey for the
sake of those who gave them; often they think of those who may be
dead and say, "How would this action appear to him? Would he
approve that word or disapprove it?" To such no baseness appears a
small baseness because its consequences may be small, nor does the
yoke of law seem burdensome although it is ever on their necks,
nor do they dream of covering a sin by an atoning act of virtue.
Often in solitude they blush when some impure fancy sails across
the clear heaven of their minds, because they are never alone,
because the absent Examples, the Authorities they still revere,
rule not their actions only but their inmost hearts; because their
conscience is indeed awake and alive, representing all the
nobleness with which they stand in sympathy, and reporting their
most hidden indecorum before a public opinion of the absent and
the dead.

Of these two influences--that of Reason and that of Living
Example--which would a wise reformer reinforce? Christ chose the
last He gathered all men into a common relation to himself, and
demanded that each should set him on the pedestal of his heart,
giving a lower place to all other objects of worship, to father
and mother, to husband or wife. In him should the loyalty of all
hearts centre; he should be their pattern, their Authority and
Judge. Of him and his service should no man be ashamed, but to
those who acknowledged it morality should be an easy yoke, and the
law of right as spontaneous as the law of life; sufferings should
be easy to bear, and the loss of worldly friends repaired by a new
home in the bosom of the Christian kingdom; finally, in death
itself their sleep should be sweet upon whose tombstone it could
be written "Obdormivit in Christo."

In his treatment of this part of the subject, the work of Christ as the
true Creator, through the Christian Church, of living morality, what is
peculiar and impressive is the way in which sympathy with Christianity
in its antique and original form, in its most austere, unearthly,
exacting aspects, is combined with sympathy with the practical
realities of modern life, with its boldness, its freedom, its love of
improvement, its love of truth. It is no common grasp which can embrace
both so easily and so firmly. He is one of those writers whose strong
hold on their ideas is shown by the facility with which they can afford
to make large admissions, which are at first sight startling. Nowhere
are more tremendous passages written than in this book about the
corruptions of that Christianity which yet the writer holds to be the
one hope and safeguard of mankind. He is not afraid to pursue his
investigation independently of any inquiry into the peculiar claims to
authority of the documents on which it rests. He at once goes to their
substance and their facts, and the Person and Life and Character which
they witness to. He is not afraid to put Faith on exactly the same
footing as Life, neither higher nor lower, as the title to membership
in the Church; a doctrine which, if it makes imperfect and rudimentary
faith as little a disqualification as imperfect and inconsistent life,
obviously does not exclude the further belief that deliberate heresy is
on the same level with deliberate profligacy. But the clear sense of
what is substantial, the power of piercing through accidents and
conditions to the real kernel of the matter, the scornful disregard of
all entanglement of apparent contradictions and inconsistencies, enable
him to bring out the lesson which he finds before him with overpowering
force. He sees before him immense mercy, immense condescension, immense
indulgence; but there are also immense requirements--requirements not
to be fulfilled by rule or exhausted by the lapse of time, and which
the higher they raise men the more they exact--an immense seriousness
and strictness, an immense care for substance and truth, to the
disregard, if necessary, of the letter and the form. The "Dispensation
of the Spirit" has seldom had an interpreter more in earnest and more
determined to see meaning in his words. We have room but for two
illustrations. He is combating the notion that the work of Christianity
and the Church nowadays is with the good, and that it is waste of hope
and strength to try to reclaim the bad and the lost:--

Once more, however, the world may answer, Christ may be consistent
in this, but is he wise? It may be true that he does demand an
enthusiasm, and that such an enthusiasm may be capable of
awakening the moral sense in hearts in which it seemed dead. But
if, notwithstanding this demand, only a very few members of the
Christian Church are capable of the enthusiasm, what use in
imposing on the whole body a task which the vast majority are not
qualified to perform? Would it not be well to recognise the fact
which we cannot alter, and to abstain from demanding from frail
human nature what human nature cannot render? Would it not be well
for the Church to impose upon its ordinary members only ordinary
duties? When the Bernard or the Whitefield appears let her by all
means find occupation for him. Let her in such cases boldly invade
the enemy's country. But in ordinary times would it not be well
for her to confine herself to more modest and practicable
undertakings? There is much for her to do even though she should
honestly confess herself unable to reclaim the lost. She may
reclaim the young, administer reproof to slight lapses, maintain a
high standard of virtue, soften manners, diffuse enlightenment.
Would it not be well for her to adapt her ends to her means?

No, it would not be well; it would be fatal to do so; and Christ
meant what he said, and said what was true, when he pronounced the
Enthusiasm of Humanity to be everything, and the absence of it to
be the absence of everything. The world understands its own
routine well enough; what it does not understand is the mode of
changing that routine. It has no appreciation of the nature or
measure of the power of enthusiasm, and on this matter it learns
nothing from experience, but after every fresh proof of that
power, relapses from its brief astonishment into its old
ignorance, and commits precisely the same miscalculation on the
next occasion. The power of enthusiasm is, indeed, far from being
unlimited; in some cases it is very small....

But one power enthusiasm has almost without limit--the power of
propagating itself; and it was for this that Christ depended on
it. He contemplated a Church in which the Enthusiasm of Humanity
should not be felt by two or three only, but widely. In whatever
heart it might be kindled, he calculated that it would pass
rapidly into other hearts, and that as it can make its heat felt
outside the Church, so it would preserve the Church itself from
lukewarmncss. For a lukewarm Church he would not condescend to
legislate, nor did he regard it as at all inevitable that the
Church should become lukewarm. He laid it as a duty upon the
Church to reclaim the lost, because he did not think it utopian to
suppose that the Church might be not in its best members only, but
through its whole body, inspired by that ardour of humanity that
can charm away the bad passions of the wildest heart, and open to
the savage and the outlaw lurking in moral wildernesses an
entrancing view of the holy and tranquil order that broods over
the streets and palaces of the city of God....

Christianity is an enthusiasm or it is nothing; and if there
sometimes appear in the history of the Church instances of a tone
which is pure and high without being enthusiastic, of a mood of
Christian feeling which is calmly favourable to virtue without
being victorious against vice, it will probably be found that all
that is respectable in such a mood is but the slowly-subsiding
movement of an earlier enthusiasm, and all that is produced by the
lukewarmness of the time itself is hypocrisy and corrupt

Christianity, then, would sacrifice its divinity if it abandoned
its missionary character and became a mere educational
institution. Surely this Article of Conversion is the true
_articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae_. When the power of
reclaiming the lost dies out of the Church, it ceases to be the
Church. It may remain a useful institution, though it is most
likely to become an immoral and mischievous one. Where the power
remains, there, whatever is wanting, it may still be said that
"the tabernacle of God is with men."

One more passage about those who in all Churches and sects think that
all that Christ meant by His call was to give them a means to do what
the French call _faire son salut_:--

It appears throughout the Sermon on the Mount that there was a
class of persons whom Christ regarded with peculiar aversion--the
persons who call themselves one thing and are another. He
describes them by a word which originally meant an "actor."
Probably it may in Christ's time have already become current in
the sense which we give to the word "hypocrite." But no doubt
whenever it was used the original sense of the word was distinctly
remembered. And in this Sermon, whenever Christ denounces any
vice, it is with the words "Be not you like the actors." In common
with all great reformers, Christ felt that honesty in word and
deed was the fundamental virtue; dishonesty, including
affectation, self-consciousness, love of stage effect, the one
incurable vice. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are to be of a
piece. For example, if we would pray to God, let us go into some
inner room where none but God shall see us; to pray at the corner
of the streets, where the passing crowd may admire our devotion,
is to _act_ a prayer. If we would keep down the rebellious flesh
by fasting, this concerns ourselves only; it is acting to parade
before the world our self-mortification. And if we would put down
sin let us put it down in ourselves first; it is only the actor
who begins by frowning at it in others. But there are subtler
forms of hypocrisy, which Christ does not denounce, probably
because they have sprung since out of the corruption of a subtler
creed. The hypocrite of that age wanted simply money or credit
with the people. His ends were those of the vulgar, though his
means were different Christ endeavoured to cure both alike of
their vulgarity by telling them of other riches and another
happiness laid up in heaven. Some, of course, would neither
understand nor regard his words, others would understand and
receive them. But a third class would receive them without
understanding them, and instead of being cured of their avarice
and sensuality, would simply transfer them to new objects of
desire. Shrewd enough to discern Christ's greatness, instinctively
believing what he said to be true, they would set out with a
triumphant eagerness in pursuit of the heavenly riches, and laugh
at the short-sighted and weak-minded speculator who contented
himself with the easy but insignificant profits of a worldly life.
They would practise assiduously the rules by which Christ said
heaven was to be won. They would patiently turn the left cheek,
indefatigibly walk the two miles, they would bless with effusion
those who cursed them, and pray fluently for those who used them
spitefully. To love their enemies, to love any one, they would
certainly find impossible, but the outward signs of love might
easily be learnt. And thus there would arise a new class of
actors, not like those whom Christ denounced, exhibiting before an
earthly audience and receiving their pay from human managers, but
hoping to be paid for their performance out of the incorruptible
treasures, and to impose by their dramatic talent upon their
Father in heaven.

We have said that one peculiarity of this work is the connection which
is kept in view from the first between the Founder and His work;
between Christ and the Christian Church. He finds it impossible to
speak of Him without that still existing witness of His having come,
which is only less wonderful and unique than Himself. This is where,
for the present, he leaves the subject:--

For the New Jerusalem, as we witness it, is no more exempt from
corruption than was the Old.... First the rottenness of dying
superstitions, their barbaric manners, their intellectualism
preferring system and debate to brotherhood, strangling
Christianity with theories and framing out of it a charlatan's
philosophy which madly tries to stop the progress of science--all
these corruptions have in the successive ages of its long life
infected the Church, and many new and monstrous perversions of
individual character have disgraced it. The creed which makes
human nature richer and larger makes men at the same time capable
of profounder sins; admitted into a holier sanctuary, they are
exposed to the temptation of a greater sacrilege; awakened to the
sense of new obligations, they sometimes lose their simple respect
for the old ones; saints that have resisted the subtlest
temptations sometimes begin again, as it were, by yielding without
a struggle to the coarsest; hypocrisy has become tenfold more
ingenious and better supplied with disguises; in short, human
nature has inevitably developed downwards as well as upwards, and
if the Christian ages be compared with those of heathenism, they
are found worse as well as better, and it is possible to make it a
question whether mankind has gained on the whole....

But the triumph of the Christian Church is that it is
_there_--that the most daring of all speculative dreams, instead
of being found impracticable, has been carried into effect, and
when carried into effect, instead of being confined to a few
select spirits, has spread itself over a vast space of the earth's
surface, and when thus diffused, instead of giving place after an
age or two to something more adapted to a later time, has endured
for two thousand years, and at the end of two thousand years,
instead of lingering as a mere wreck spared by the tolerance of
the lovers of the past, still displays vigour and a capacity of
adjusting itself to new conditions, and lastly, in all the
transformations it undergoes, remains visibly the same thing and
inspired by its Founder's universal and unquenchable spirit.

It is in this and not in any freedom from abuses that the divine
power of Christianity appears. Again, it is in this, and not in
any completeness or all-sufficiency....

But the achievement of Christ in founding by his single will and
power a structure so durable and so universal, is like no other
achievement which history records. The masterpieces of the men of
action are coarse and common in comparison with it, and the
masterpieces of speculation flimsy and insubstantial. When we
speak of it the commonplaces of admiration fail us altogether.
Shall we speak of the originality of the design, of the skill
displayed in the execution? All such terms are inadequate.
Originality and contriving skill operated indeed, but, as it were,
implicitly. The creative effort which produced that against which,
it is said, the gates of hell shall not prevail, cannot be
analysed. No architects' designs were furnished for the New
Jerusalem, no committee drew up rules for the Universal
Commonwealth. If in the works of Nature we can trace the
indications of calculation, of a struggle with difficulties, of
precaution, of ingenuity, then in Christ's work it may be that the
same indications occur. But these inferior and secondary powers
were not consciously exercised; they were implicitly present in
the manifold yet single creative act. The inconceivable work was
done in calmness; before the eyes of men it was noiselessly
accomplished, attracting little attention. Who can describe that
which unites men? Who has entered into the formation of speech
which is the symbol of their union? Who can describe exhaustively
the origin of civil society? He who can do these things can
explain the origin of the Christian Church. For others it must be
enough to say, "the Holy Ghost fell on those that believed." No
man saw the building of the New Jerusalem, the workmen crowded
together, the unfinished walls and unpaved streets; no man heard
the chink of trowel and pickaxe; it descended _out of heaven from

And here we leave this remarkable book. It seems to us one of those
which permanently influence opinion, not so much by argument as such,
as by opening larger views of the familiar and the long-debated, by
deepening the ordinary channels of feeling, and by bringing men back to
seriousness and rekindling their admiration, their awe, their love,
about what they know best. We have not dwelt on minute criticisms about
points to which exception might be taken. We have not noticed even
positions on which, without further explanation, we should more or less
widely disagree. The general scope of it, and the seriousness as well
as the grandeur and power with which the main idea is worked out, seem
to make mere secondary objections intolerable. It is a fragment, with
the disadvantages of a fragment. What is put before us is far from
complete, and it needs to be completed. In part at least an answer has
been given to the question _what_ Christ was; but the question remains,
not less important, and of which the answer is only here foreshadowed,
_who_ He was. But so far as it goes, what it does is this: in the face
of all attempts to turn Christianity into a sentiment or a philosophy,
it asserts, in a most remarkable manner, a historical religion and a
historical Church; but it also seeks, in a manner equally remarkable,
to raise and elevate the thoughts of all, on all sides, about Christ,
as He showed Himself in the world, and about what Christianity was
meant to be; to touch new springs of feeling; to carry back the Church
to its "hidden fountains," and pierce through the veils which hide from
us the reality of the wonders in which it began.

The book is indeed a protest against the stiffness of all cast-iron
systems, and a warning against trusting in what is worn out. But it
shows how the modern world, so complex, so refined, so wonderful, is,
in all that it accounts good, but a reflection of what is described in
the Gospels, and its civilisation, but an application of the laws of
Christ, changing, it may be, indefinitely in outward form, but
depending on their spirit as its ever-living spring. If we have
misunderstood this book, and its cautious understatements are not
understatements at all, but represent the limits beyond which the
writer does not go, we can only say again it is one-of the strangest
among books. If we have not misunderstood him, we have before us a
writer who has a right to claim deference from those who think deepest
and know most, when he pleads before them that not Philosophy can save
and reclaim the world, but Faith in a Divine Person who is worthy of
it, allegiance to a Divine Society which He founded, and union of
hearts in the object for which He created it.



_Guardian_, 6th March 1889.

Mrs. Ward, in the _Nineteenth Century_, develops with warmth and force
the theme and serious purpose of _Robert Elsmere_; and she does so,
using the same literary method which she used, certainly with effect,
in the story itself. Every age has its congenial fashion of discussing
the great questions which affect, or seem to affect, the fate of
mankind. According to the time and its circumstances, it is a _Summa
Theologiae_, or a _Divina Commedia_, or a _Novum Organum_, or a
Calvin's _Institutes_, or a Locke _On the Understanding_, or an
_Encyclopedia_, or a _Candide_, which sets people thinking more than
usual and comparing their thoughts. Long ago in the history of human
questioning, Plato and Cicero discovered the advantages over dry
argument of character and easy debate, and so much of story as clothed
abstractions and hard notions with human life and affections. It is a
weighty precedent. And as the prophetess of a "New Reformation" Mrs.
Ward has reverted to what is substantially the same method. She is
within her right. We do not blame her for putting her argument into the
shape of a novel, and bringing out the points of her case in the trials
and passionate utterances of imaginary persons, or in a conversation
about their mental history. But she must take the good with the bad.
Such a method has its obvious advantages, in freedom, and convenience,
and range of illustration. It has its disadvantages. The dealer in
imagination may easily become the unconscious slave of imagination;
and, living in a self-constructed world, may come to forget that there
is any other; and the temptation to unfairness becomes enormous when
all who speak, on one side or the other, only speak as you make or let
them speak.

It is to imagination that _Robert Elsmere_ makes its main appeal,
undoubtedly a powerful and pathetic one. It bids us ask ourselves what,
with the phenomena before us, we can conceive possible and real. It
implies, of course, much learning, with claims of victory in the
spheres of history and science, with names great in criticism, of whom
few readers probably can estimate the value, though all may be affected
by the formidable array. But it is not in these things, as with a book
like _Supernatural Religion_, that the gist of the argument lies. The
alleged results of criticism are taken for granted; whether rightly or
wrongly the great majority of readers certainly cannot tell. But then
the effect of the book, or the view which it represents, begins.
Imagine a man, pure-minded, earnest, sensitive, self-devoted, plunged
into the tremendous questions of our time. Bit by bit he finds what he
thought to be the truth of truths breaking away. In the darkness and
silence with which nature covers all beyond the world of experience he
thought he had found light and certainty from on high. He thought that
he had assurances and pledges which could not fail him, that God was in
the world, governed it, loved it, showed Himself in it He thought he
had a great and authentic story to fall back upon, and a Sacred Book,
which was its guaranteed witness, and by which God still spoke to his
soul. He thought that, whatever he did not know, he knew this, and this
was a hope to live and die in; with all that he saw round him, of pain
and sin and misery, here was truth on which he could rest secure, in
his fight with evil. Like the rest of us, he knew that terrible,
far-reaching, heart-searching questions were abroad; that all that to
him was sacred and unapproachable in its sanctity was not so to
all--was not so, perhaps, to men whom he felt to be stronger and more
knowing than himself--was not so, perhaps, to some who seemed to him to
stand, in character and purpose, at a moral height above him. Still he
thought himself in full possession of the truth which God had given
him, till at length, in one way or another, the tide of questioning
reached him. Then begins the long agony. He hears that what he never
doubted is said to be incredible, and is absolutely given up. He finds
himself bin-rounded by hostile powers of thought, by an atmosphere
which insensibly but irresistibly governs opinion, by doubt and denial
in the air, by keen and relentless intellect, before which he can only
he silent; he sees and hears all round the disintegrating process going
on in the creeds and institutions and intellectual statements of
Christianity. He is assured, and sees some reason to believe it, that
the intellect of the day is against him and his faith; and further,
that unreality taints everything, belief and reasoning, and profession
and conduct Step by step he is forced from one position and another;
the process was a similar and a familiar one when the great Roman
secession was going on fifty years ago. But now, in Robert Elsmere,
comes the upshot. He is not landed, as some logical minds have been,
which have gone through the same process, in mere unbelief or
indifference. He is too good for that. Something of his old
Christianity is too deeply engrained in him. He cannot go back from the
moral standard to which it accustomed him. He will serve God in a
Christian spirit and after the example of Christ, though not in what
can claim to be called a Christian way. He is the beginner of one more
of the numberless attempts to find a new mode of religion, purer than
any of the old ones could be--of what Mrs. Ward calls in her new paper
"A New Reformation."

In this paper, which is more distinctly a dialogue on the Platonic
model, she isolates the main argument on which the story was based, but
without any distinct reference to any of the criticisms on her book.
_Robert Elsmere_ rests on the achievements of historic criticism,
chiefly German criticism. From the traditional, old-fashioned Christian
way of regarding and using the old records which we call the Bible, the
ground, we are told, is hopelessly and for ever cut away by German
historical criticism. And the difference between the old and the modern
way of regarding and using them is expressed by the difference between
_bad translation_ and _good_; the old way of reading, quoting, and
estimating ancient documents of all kinds was purblind, lifeless,
narrow, mechanical, whereas the modern comparative and critical method
not only is more sure in important questions of authenticity, but puts
true life and character and human feeling and motives into the
personages who wrote these documents, and of whom they speak. These
books were entirely misunderstood, even if people knew the meaning of
their words; now, at last, we can enter into their real spirit and
meaning. And where such a change of method and point of view, as
regards these documents, is wholesale and sweeping, it involves a
wholesale and sweeping change in all that is founded on them. Revised
ideas about the Bible mean a revised and reconstructed Christianity--"A
New Reformation."

Mrs. Ward lays more stress than everybody will agree to on what she
likens to the difference between _good translation_ and _bad_, in
dealing with the materials of history. Doubtless, in our time, the
historical imagination, like the historical conscience, has been
awakened. In history, as in other things, the effort after the real and
the living has been very marked; it has sometimes resulted, as we know,
in that parading of the real which we call the realistic. The mode of
telling a story or stating a case varies, even characteristically, from
age to age, from Macaulay to Hume, from Hume to Rapin, from Rapin to
Holinshed or Hall; but after all, the story in its main features
remains, after allowing for the differences in the mode of presenting
it. German criticism, to which we are expected to defer, has its mode.
It combines two elements--a diligent, searching, lawyer-like habit of
cross-examination, laborious, complete and generally honest, which,
when it is not spiteful or insolent, deserves all the praise it
receives; but with it a sense of the probable, in dealing with the
materials collected, and a straining after attempts to construct
theories and to give a vivid reality to facts and relations, which are
not always so admirable; which lead, in fact, sometimes to the height
of paradox, or show mere incapacity to deal with the truth and depth of
life, or make use of a poor and mean standard--_mesquin_ would be the
French word--in the interpretation of actions and aims. It has
impressed on us the lesson--not to be forgotten when we read Mrs.
Ward's lists of learned names--that weight and not number is the test
of good evidence. German learning is decidedly imposing. But after all
there are Germans and Germans; and with all that there has been of
great in German work there has been also a large proportion of what is
bad--conceited, arrogant, shallow, childish. German criticism has been
the hunting-ground of an insatiable love of sport--may we not say,
without irreverence, the scene of the discovery of a good many mares'
nests? When the question is asked, why all this mass of criticism has
made so little impression on English thought, the answer is, because of
its extravagant love of theorising, because of its divergences and
variations, because of its negative results. Those who have been so
eager to destroy have not been so successful in construction. Clever
theories come to nothing; streams which began with much noise at last
lose themselves in the sand. Undoubtedly, it presents a very important,
and, in many ways, interesting class of intellectual phenomena, among
the many groups of such inquiries, moral, philosophical, scientific,
political, social, of which the world is full, and of which no sober
thinker expects to see the end. If this vaunted criticism is still left
to scholars, it is because it is still in the stage in which only
scholars are competent to examine and judge it; it is not fit to be a
factor in the practical thought and life of the mass of mankind.
Answers, and not merely questions, are what we want, who have to live,
and work, and die. Criticism has pulled about the Bible without
restraint or scruple. We are all of us steeped in its daring
assumptions and shrewd objections. Have its leaders yet given us an
account which it is reasonable to receive, clear, intelligible,
self-consistent and consistent with all the facts, of what this
mysterious book is?

Meanwhile, in the face of theories and conjectures and negative
arguments, there is something in the world which is fact, and hard
fact. The Christian Church is the most potent fact in the most
important ages of the world's progress. It is an institution like the
world itself, which has grown up by its own strength and according to
its own principle of life, full of good and evil, having as the law of
its fate to be knocked about in the stern development of events,
exposed, like human society, to all kinds of vicissitudes and
alternations, giving occasion to many a scandal, and shaking the faith
and loyalty of many a son, showing in ample measure the wear and tear
of its existence, battered, injured, sometimes degenerate, sometimes
improved, in one way or another, since those dim and long distant days
when its course began; but showing in all these ways what a real thing
it is, never in the extremity of storms and ruin, never in the deepest
degradation of its unfaithfulness, losing hold of its own central
unchanging faith, and never in its worst days of decay and corruption
losing hold of the power of self-correction and hope of recovery.
_Solvitur ambulando_ is an argument to which Mrs. Ward appeals, in
reply to doubts about the solidity of the "New Reformation." It could
be urged more modestly if the march of the "New Reformation" had lasted
for even half of one of the Christian centuries. The Church is in the
world, as the family is in the world, as the State is in the world, as
morality is in the world, a fact of the same order and greatness. Like
these it has to make its account with the "all-dissolving" assaults of
human thought. Like these it has to prove itself by living, and it does
do so. In all its infinite influences and ministries, in infinite
degrees and variations, it is the public source of light and good and
hope. If there are select and aristocratic souls who can do without it,
or owe it nothing, the multitude of us cannot. And the Christian Church
is founded on a definite historic fact, that Jesus Christ who was
crucified rose from the dead; and, coming from such an author, it comes
to us, bringing with it the Bible. The fault of a book like _Robert
Elsmere_ is that it is written with a deliberate ignoring that these
two points are not merely important, but absolutely fundamental, in the
problems with which it deals. With these not faced and settled it is
like looking out at a prospect through a window of which all the glass
is ribbed and twisted, distorting everything. It may be that even yet
we imperfectly understand our wondrous Bible. It may be that we have
yet much to learn about it. It may be that there is much that is very
difficult about it. Let us reverently and fearlessly learn all we can
about it. Let us take care not to misuse it, as it has been terribly
misused. But coming to us from the company and with the sanction of
Christ risen, it never can be merely like other books. A so-called
Christianity, ignoring or playing with Christ's resurrection, and using
the Bible as a sort of Homer, may satisfy a class of clever and
cultivated persons. It may be to them the parent of high and noble
thoughts, and readily lend itself to the service of mankind. But it is
well in so serious a matter not to confuse things. This new religion
may borrow from Christianity as it may borrow from Plato, or from
Buddhism, or Confucianism, or even Islam. But it is not Christianity.
_Robert Elsmere_ may be true to life, as representing one of those
tragedies which happen in critical moments of history. But a
Christianity which tells us to think of Christ doing good, but to
forget and put out of sight Christ risen from the dead, is not true to
life. It is as delusive to the conscience and the soul as it is
illogical to reason.



_Histoire des Origines du Christianisme_. Livre I.--_Vie de Jesus_.
Par Ernest Renan. _Guardian_, 9th September 1863.

Unbelief is called upon nowadays, as well as belief, to give its
account of the origin of that undeniable and most important fact which
we call the Christian religion. And if it is true that in some respects
the circumstances under which the controversy is carried on are, as it
has been alleged, more than heretofore favourable to unbelief, it is
also true that in some other respects the case of unbelief has
difficulties which it had not once. It has to accept and admit, if it
wishes to gain a favourable hearing from the present generation, the
unique and surpassing moral grandeur, depth, and attractiveness of
Christianity. The polemic method which set Christianity in broad
contrast with what was supposed to be best and highest in human nature,
and therefore found no difficulty in tracing to a bad source what was
itself represented to be bad, is not a method suited to the ideas and
feelings of our time; and the sneers and sarcasms of the last century,
provoked by abuses and inconsistencies which have since received their
ample and memorable punishment, cease to produce any effect on readers
of the present day, except to call forth a passing feeling of
repugnance at what is shallow and profane, mixed, it may be, sometimes,
with an equally passing admiration for what is witty and brilliant.
Even in M. Renan's view, Voltaire has done his work, and is out of
date. Those who now attack Christianity have to attack it under the
disadvantage of the preliminary admission that its essential and
distinguishing elements are, on the whole, in harmony and not in
discordance with the best conceptions of human duty and life, and that
its course and progress have been, at any rate, concurrent with all
that is best and most hopeful in human history. First allowing that as
a fact it contains in it things than which we cannot imagine anything
better, and without which we should never have reached to where we are,
they then have to dispute its divine claims. No man could write
persuasively on religion now, _against_ it any more than _for_ it, who
did not show that he was fully penetrated not only with its august and
beneficent aspect, but with the essential and everlasting truths which,
in however imperfect shapes, or whencesoever derived, are embodied in
it and are ministered by it to society.

That Christianity is, as a matter of fact, a successful and a living
religion, in a degree absolutely without parallel in any other
religion, is the point from which its assailants have now to start.
They have also to take account of the circumstance, to the recognition
of which the whole course of modern thought and inquiry has brought us,
that it has been successful, not by virtue merely of any outward and
accidental favouring circumstances, but of its intrinsic power and of
principles which are inseparable from its substance. This being the
condition of the question, those who deny its claim to a direct Divine
origin have to frame their theory of it so as to account, on principles
supposed to be common to it and other religions, not merely for its
rise and its conquests, but for those broad and startling differences
which separate it, in character and in effects, from all other known
religions. They have to show how that which is instinct with
never-dying truth sprang out of what was false and mistaken, if not
corrupt; how that which alone has revealed God to man's conscience had
no other origin than what in other instances has led men through
enthusiasm and imposture to a barren or a mischievous superstition.

Such an attempt is the work before us--a work destined, probably, both
from its ability and power and from its faults, to be for modern France
what the work of Strauss was for Germany, the standard expression of an
unbelief which shrinks with genuine distaste from the coarse and
negative irreligion of older infidelity, and which is too refined, too
profound and sympathetic in its views of human nature, to be insensible
to those numberless points in which as a fact Christianity has given
expression to the best and highest thoughts that man can have. Strauss,
to account for what we see, imagined an idea, or a set of ideas,
gradually worked out into the shape of a history, of which scarcely
anything can be taken as real matter of fact, except the bare existence
of the person who was clothed in the process of time with the
attributes created by the idealising legend. Such a view is too vague
and indistinct to satisfy French minds. A theory of this sort, to find
general acceptance in France, must start with concrete history, and not
be history held in solution in the cloudy shapes of myths which vanish
as soon as touched. M. Renan's process is in the main the reverse of
Strauss's. He undertakes to extract the real history recorded in the
Gospels; and not only so, but to make it even more palpable and
interesting, if not more wonderful, than it seems at first sight in the
original records, by removing the crust of mistake and exaggeration
which has concealed the true character of what the narrative records;
by rewriting it according to those canons of what is probable and
intelligible in human life and capacity which are recognised in the
public whom he addresses.

Two of these canons govern the construction of the book. One of them is
the assumption that in no part of the history of man is the
supernatural to be admitted. This, of course, is not peculiar to M.
Renan, though he lays it down with such emphasis in all his works, and
is so anxious to bring it into distinct notice on every occasion, that
it is manifestly one which he is desirous to impress on all who read
him, as one of the ultimate and unquestionable foundations of all
historical inquiry. The other canon is one of moral likelihood, and it
is, that it is credible and agreeable to what we gather from
experience, that the highest moral elevation ever attained by man
should have admitted along with it, and for its ends, conscious
imposture. On the first of these assumptions, all that is miraculous in
the Gospel narratives is, not argued about, or, except perhaps in one
instance--the raising of Lazarus--attempted to be accounted for or
explained, but simply left out and ignored. On the second, the fact
from which there is no escape--that He whom M. Renan venerates with a
sincerity which no one can doubt as the purest and greatest of moral
reformers, did claim power from God to work miracles--is harmonised
with the assumption that the claim could not possibly have been a true

M. Renan professes to give an historical account of the way in which
the deepest, purest, most enduring religious principles known among men
were, not merely found out and announced, but propagated and impressed
upon the foremost and most improved portions of mankind, by the power
of a single character. It is impossible, without speaking of Jesus of
Nazareth as Christians are used to do, to speak of His character and of
the results of His appearance in loftier terms than this professed
unbeliever in His Divine claims. But when the account is drawn out in
detail, of a cause alleged to be sufficient to produce such effects,
the apparent inadequacy of it is most startling. When we think of what
Christianity is and has done, and that, in M. Renan's view, Christ, the
Christ whom he imagines and describes, is all in all to Christianity,
and then look to what he conceives to have been the original spring and
creative impulse of its achievements, the first feeling is that no
shifts that belief has sometimes been driven to, to keep within the
range of the probable, are greater than those accepted by unbelief, in
its most enlightened and reflecting representations. To suppose such an
one as M. Renan paints, changing the whole course of history,
overturning and converting the world, and founding the religion which
M. Renan thinks the lasting religion of mankind, involves a force upon
our imagination and reason to which it is not easy to find a parallel.

His view is that a Galilean peasant, in advance of his neighbours and
countrymen only in the purity, force, and singleness of purpose with
which he realised the highest moral truths of Jewish religious wisdom,
first charming a few simple provincials by the freshness and native
beauty of his lessons, was then led on, partly by holy zeal against
falsehood and wickedness, partly by enthusiastic delusions as to his
own mission and office, to attack the institutions of Judaism, and
perished in the conflict--and that this was the cause why Christianity
and Christendom came to be and exist. This is the explanation which a
great critical historian, fully acquainted with the history of other
religions, presents, as a satisfactory one, of a phenomenon so
astonishing and unique as that of a religion which has suited itself
with undiminished vitality to the changes, moral, social, and
political, which have marked the eighteen centuries of European
history. There have been other enthusiasts for goodness and truth, more
or less like the character which M. Renan draws in his book, but they
have never yet founded a universal religion, or one which had the
privilege of perpetual youth and unceasing self-renovation. There have
been other great and imposing religions, commanding the allegiance for
century after century of millions of men; but who will dare assert that
any of these religions, that of Sakya-Mouni, of Mahomet, or that of the
Vedas, could possibly be the religion, or satisfy the religious ideas
and needs, of the civilised West?

When M. Renan comes to detail he is as strangely insensible to what seem
at first sight the simplest demands of probability. As it were by a sort
of reaction to the minute realising of particulars which has been in
vogue among some Roman Catholic writers, M. Renan realises too--realises
with no less force and vividness, and, according to his point of view,
with no less affectionate and tender interest. He popularises the
Gospels; but not for a religious set of readers--nor, we must add, for
readers of thought and sense, whether interested for or against
Christianity, but for a public who study life in the subtle and highly
wrought novels of modern times. He appeals from what is probable to
those representations of human nature which aspire to pass beyond the
conventional and commonplace, and especially he dwells on neglected and
unnoticed examples of what is sweet and soft and winning. But it is hard
to recognise the picture he has drawn in the materials out of which he
has composed it. The world is tolerably familiar with them. If there is
a characteristic, consciously or unconsciously acknowledged in the
Gospel records, it is that of the gravity, the plain downright
seriousness, the laborious earnestness, impressed from first to last on
the story. When we turn from these to his pages it is difficult to
exaggerate the astounding impression which his epithets and descriptions
have on the mind. We are told that there is a broad distinction between
the early Galilean days of hope in our Lord's ministry, and the later
days of disappointment and conflict; and that if we look, we shall find
in Galilee the "_fin et joyeux moraliste_," full of a "_conversation
pleine de gaiete et de charme_," of "_douce gaiete et aimables
plaisanteries_," with a "_predication suave et douce, toute pleine de la
nature et du parfum des champs_," creating out of his originality of
mind his "_innocents aphorismes_," and the "_genre d'elicieux_" of
parabolic teaching; "_le charmant docteur qui pardonnait a tous pourvu
qu'on l'aimat_." He lived in what was then an earthly paradise, in "_la
joyeuse Galilee_" in the midst of the "_nature ravissante_" which gave
to everything about the Sea of Galilee "_un tour idyllique et
charmant_." So the history of Christianity at its birth is a
"_delicieuse pastorale_" an "_idylle_," a "_milieu enivrant_" of joy and
hope. The master was surrounded by a "_bande de joyeux enfants_," a
"_troupe gaie et vagabonde_," whose existence in the open air was a
"perpetual enchantment." The disciples were "_ces petits comites de
bonnes gens_," very simple, very credulous, and like their country full
of a "_sentiment gai et tendre de la vie_," and of an "_imagination
riante_." Everything is spoken of as "delicious"--"_delicieuse
pastorale," "delicieuse beaute," "delicieuses sentences," "delicieuse
theologie d'amour_." Among the "tender and delicate souls of the
North"--it is not quite thus that Josephus describes the Galileans--was
set up an "_aimable communisme_." Is it possible to imagine a more
extravagant distortion than the following, both in its general effect
and in the audacious generalisation of a very special incident, itself
inaccurately conceived of?--

Il parcourait ainsi la Galilee au milieu _d'une fete perpetuelle_.
Il se servait d'une mule, monture en Orient si bonne et si sure,
et dont le grand oeil noir, ombrage de longs cils, a beaucoup de
douceur. Ses disciples deployarent quelquefois autour de lui une
pompe rustique, dont leurs vetements, tenant lieu de tapis,
faisaient les frais. Ils les mettaient sur la mule qui le portait,
ou les etendaient a terre sur son passage.

History has seen strange hypotheses; but of all extravagant notions,
that one that the world has been conquered by what was originally an
idyllic gipsying party is the most grotesque. That these "_petits
comites de bonnes gens_" though influenced by a great example and
wakened out of their "delicious pastoral" by a heroic death, should
have been able to make an impression on Judaean faith, Greek intellect,
and Roman civilisation, and to give an impulse to mankind which has
lasted to this day, is surely one of the most incredible hypotheses
ever accepted, under the desperate necessity of avoiding an unwelcome

M. Renan is willing to adopt everything in the Gospel history except
what is miraculous. If he is difficult to satisfy as to the physical
possibility or the proof of miracles, at least he is not hard to
satisfy on points of moral likelihood; and he draws on his ample power
of supposing the combination of moral opposites in order to get rid of
the obstinate and refractory supernatural miracle. To some extent,
indeed, he avails himself of that inexhaustible resource of unlimited
guessing, by means of which he reverses the whole history, and makes it
take a shape which it is hard to recognise in its original records. The
feeding of the five thousand, the miracle described by all the four
Evangelists, is thus curtly disposed of:--"Il se retira au desert.
Beaucoup de monde l'y suivit. _Grace a une extreme frugalite_ la troupe
sainte y vecut; _on crut naturellement_ voir en cela un miracle." This
is all he has to say. But miracles are too closely interwoven with the
whole texture of the Gospel history to be, as a whole, thus disposed
of. He has, of course, to admit that miracles are so mixed up with it
that mere exaggeration is not a sufficient account of them. But be bids
us remember that the time was one of great credulity, of slackness and
incapacity in dealing with matters of evidence, a time when it might be
said that there was an innocent disregard of exact and literal truth
where men's souls and affections were deeply interested. But, even
supposing that this accounted for a belief in certain miracles growing
up--which it does not, for the time was not one of mere childlike and
uninquiring belief, but was as perfectly familiar as we are with the
notion of false claims to miraculous power which could not stand
examination--still this does not meet the great difficulty of all, to
which he is at last brought. It is undeniable that our Lord professed
to work miracles. They were not merely attributed to Him by those who
came after Him. If we accept in any degree the Gospel account, He not
only wrought miracles, but claimed to do so; and M. Renan admits
it--that is, he admits that the highest, purest, most Divine person
ever seen on earth (for all this he declares in the most unqualified
terms) stooped to the arts of Simon Magus or Apollonius of Tyana. He
was a "thaumaturge"--"tard et a contre-coeur"--"avec une sorte de
mauvaise humeur"--"en cachette"--"malgre lui"--"sentant le vanite de
l'opinion"; but still a "thaumaturge." Moreover, He was so almost of
necessity; for M. Renan holds that without the support of an alleged
supernatural character and power, His work must have perished.
Everything, to succeed and be realised, must, we are told, be fortified
with something of alloy. We are reminded of the "loi fatale qui
condamne l'idee a dechoir des qu'elle cherche a convertir les hommes."
"Concevoir de bien, en efifet, ne suffit pas; il faut le faire reussir
parmi les hommes. Pour cela, des voies moins pures sont necessaires."
If the Great Teacher had kept to the simplicity of His early lessons,
He would have been greater, but "the truth would not have been
promulgated." "He had to choose between these two alternatives, either
renouncing his mission or becoming a 'thaumaturge.'" The miracles
"were a violence done to him by his age, a concession which was wrung
from him by a passing necessity." And if we feel startled at such a
view, we are reminded that we must not measure the sincerity of
Orientals by our own rigid and critical idea of veracity; and that
"such is the weakness of the human mind, that the best causes are not
usually won but by bad reasons," and that the greatest of discoverers
and founders have only triumphed over their difficulties "by daily
taking account of men's weakness and by not always giving the true
reasons of the truth."

L'histoire est impossible si l'on n'admet hautement qu'il y a pour
la sincerite plusieurs mesures. Toutes les grandes choses se font
par le peuple, or on ne conduit pas le peuple qu'en se pretant a
ses idees. Le philosophe, qui sachant cela, s'isole et se
retranche dans sa noblesse, est hautement louable. Mais celui qui
prend l'humanite avec ses illusions et cherche a agir sur elle et
avec elle, ne saurait etre blame. Cesar savait fort bien qu'il
n'etait pas fils de Venus; la France ne serait pas ce qu'elle est
si l'on n'avait cru mille ans a la sainte ampoule de Reims. Il
nous est facile a nous autres, impuissants que nous sommes,
d'appeler cela mensonge, et fiers de notre timide honnetete, de
traiter avec dedain les heros qui out accepte dans d'autres
conditions la lutte de la vie. Quand nous aurons fait avec nos
scrupules ce qu'ils firent avec leurs mensonges, nous aurons le
droit d'etre pour eux severes.

Now let M. Renan or any one else realise what is involved, on his
supposition, not merely, as he says, of "illusion or madness," but of
wilful deceit and falsehood, in the history of Lazarus, even according
to his lame and hesitating attempt to soften it down and extenuate it;
and then put side by side with it the terms in which M. Renan has
summed up the moral greatness of Him of whom he writes:--

La foi, l'enthousiasme, la constance de la premiere generation
chretienne ne s'expliquent qu'en supposant a l'origine de tout le
mouvement un homme de proportions colossales.... Cette sublime
personne, qui chaque jour preside encore au destin du monde, il
est permis de l'appeler divine, non en ce sens que Jesus ait
absorbe tout le divin, mais en ce sens que Jesus est l'individu
qui a fait faire a son espece le plus grand pas vers le divin....
Au milieu de cette uniforme vulgarite, des colonnes s'elevent vers
le ciel et attestent une plus noble destinee. Jesus est la plus
haute de ces colonnes qui montrent a l'homme d'ou il vient et ou
il doit tendre. En lui s'est condense tout ce qu'il y a de bon et
d'eleve dans notre nature.... Quels que puissent etre les
phenomenes inattendus de l'avenir, Jesus ne sera pas surpasse....
Tous les siecles proclameront qu'entre les fils des hommes il n'en
est pas ne de plus grand que Jesus.

And of such an one we are told that it is a natural and reasonable view
to take, not merely that He claimed a direct communication with God,
which disordered reason could alone excuse Him for claiming, but that
He based His whole mission on a pretension to such supernatural powers
as a man could not pretend to without being conscious that they were
delusions. The conscience of that age as to veracity or imposture was
quite clear on such a point. Jew and Greek and Roman would have
condemned as a deceiver one who, not having the power, took on him to
say that by the finger of God he could raise the dead. And yet to a
conscience immeasurably above his age, it seems, according to M. Renan,
that this might be done. It is absurd to say that we must not judge
such a proceeding by the ideas of our more exact and truth-loving age,
when it would have been abundantly condemned by the ideas recognised in
the religion and civilisation of the first century.

M. Renan repeatedly declares that his great aim is to save religion by
relieving it of the supernatural. He does not argue; but instead of the
old familiar view of the Great History, he presents an opposite theory
of his own, framed to suit that combination of the revolutionary and
the sentimental which just now happens to be in favour in the unbelieving
schools. And this is the result: a representation which boldly invests
its ideal with the highest perfections of moral goodness, strength, and
beauty, and yet does not shrink from associating with it also--and
that, too, as the necessary and inevitable condition of success--a
deliberate and systematic willingness to delude and insensibility to
untruth. This is the religion and this is the reason which appeals to
Christ in order to condemn Christianity.



_Histoire des Origines du Christianisme_. Livre II.--_Les Apotres_.
Par Ernest Renan. _Saturday Review_, 14th July 1866.

In his recent volume, _Les Apotres_, M. Renan has undertaken two tasks
of very unequal difficulty. He accounts for the origin of the Christian
belief and religion, and he writes the history of its first
propagation. These are very different things, and to do one of them is
by no means to do the other. M. Renan's historical sketch of the first
steps of the Christian movement is, whatever we may think of its
completeness and soundness, a survey of characters and facts, based on
our ordinary experience of the ways in which men act and are
influenced. Of course it opens questions and provokes dissent at every
turn; but, after all, the history of a religion once introduced into
the world is the history of the men who give it shape and preach it,
who accept or oppose it. The spread and development of all religions
have certain broad features in common, which admit of philosophical
treatment simply as phenomena, and receive light from being compared
with parallel examples of the same kind; and whether a man's historical
estimate is right, and his picture accurate and true, depends on his
knowledge of the facts, and his power to understand them and to make
them understood. No one can dispute M. Renan's qualifications for being
the historian of a religious movement. The study of religion as a
phenomenon of human nature and activity has paramount attractions for
him. His interest in it has furnished him with ample and varied
materials for comparison and generalisation. He is a scholar and a man
of learning, quick and wide in his sympathies, and he commands
attention by the singular charm of his graceful and lucid style. When,
therefore, he undertakes to relate how, as a matter of fact, the
Christian Church grew up amid the circumstances of its first
appearance, he has simply to tell the story of the progress of a
religious cause; and this is a comparatively light task for him. But he
also lays before us what he appears to consider an adequate account of
the origin of the Christian belief. The Christian belief, it must be
remembered, means, not merely the belief that there was such a person
as he has described in his former, volume, but the belief that one who
was crucified rose again from the dead, and lives for evermore above.
It is in this belief that the Christian religion had its beginning;
there is no connecting Christ and Christianity, except through the
Resurrection. The origin, therefore, of the belief in the Resurrection,
in the shape in which we have it, lies across M. Renan's path to
account for; and neither the picture which he has drawn in his former
volume, nor the history which he follows out in this, dispense him from
the necessity of facing this essential and paramount element in the
problem which he has to solve. He attempts to deal with this, the knot
of the great question. But his attempt seems to us to disclose a more
extraordinary insensibility to the real demands of the case, and to
what we cannot help calling the pitiable inadequacy of his own
explanation, than we could have conceived possible in so keen and
practised a mind.

The Resurrection, we repeat, bars the way in M. Renan's scheme for
making an intelligible transition, from the life and character which he
has sought to reproduce from the Gospels, to the first beginnings and
preaching of Christianity. The Teacher, he says, is unique in wisdom,
in goodness, in the height of his own moral stature and the Divine
elevation of his aims. The religion is, with all abatements and
imperfections, the only one known which could be the religion of
humanity. After his portraiture of the Teacher, follows, naturally
enough, as the result of that Teacher's influence and life, a religion
of corresponding elevation and promise. The passage from a teaching
such as M. Renan supposes to a religion such as he allows Christianity
to be may be reasonably understood as a natural consequence of
well-known causes, but for one thing--the interposition between the two
of an alleged event which simply throws out all reasonings drawn from
ordinary human experience. From the teaching and life of Socrates
follow, naturally enough, schools of philosophy, and an impulse which
has affected scientific thought ever since. From the preaching and life
of Mahomet follows, equally naturally, the religion of Islam. In each
case the result is seen to be directly and distinctly linked on to the
influences which gave it birth, and nothing more than these influences
is wanted, or makes any claim, to account for it. So M. Renan holds
that all that is needed to account for Christianity is such a
personality and such a career as he has described in his last volume.
But the facts will not bend to this. Christianity hangs on to Christ
not merely as to a Person who lived and taught and died, but as to a
Person who rose again from death. That is of the very essence of its
alleged derivation from Christ. It knows Christ only as Christ risen;
the only reason of its own existence that it recognises is the
Resurrection. The only claim the Apostles set forth for preaching to
the world is that their Master who was crucified was alive once more.
Every one knows that this was the burden of all their words, the
corner-stone of all their work. We may believe them or not. We may take
Christianity or leave it. But we cannot derive Christianity from
Christ, without meeting, as the bond which connects the two, the
Resurrection. But for the Resurrection, M. Renan's scheme might be
intelligible. A Teacher unequalled for singleness of aim and nobleness
of purpose lives and dies, and leaves the memory and the leaven of His
teaching to disciples, who by them, even though in an ill-understood
shape, and with incomparably inferior qualities themselves, purify and
elevate the religious ideas and feelings of mankind. If that were all,
if there were nothing but the common halo of the miraculous which is
apt to gather about great names, the interpretation might be said to be
coherent. But a theory of Christianity cannot neglect the most
prominent fact connected with its beginning. It is impossible to leave
it out of the account, in judging both of the Founder and of those whom
his influence moulded and inspired.

M. Renan has to account for the prominence given to the Resurrection in
the earliest Christian teaching, without having recourse to the
supposition of conscious imposture and a deliberate conspiracy to
deceive; for such a supposition would not harmonise either with the
portrait he has drawn of the Master, or with his judgment of the
seriousness and moral elevation of the men who, immeasurably inferior
as they were to Him, imbibed His spirit, and represented and
transmitted to us His principles. And this is something much more than
can be accounted for by the general disposition of the age to assume
the supernatural and the miraculous. The way in which the Resurrection
is circumstantially and unceasingly asserted, and made on every
occasion and from the first the foundation of everything, is something
very different from the vague legends which float about of kings or
saints whom death has spared, or from a readiness to see the direct
agency of heaven in health or disease. It is too precise, too
matter-of-fact, too prosaic in the way in which it is told, to be
resolved into ill-understood dreams and imaginations. The various
recitals show little care to satisfy our curiosity, or to avoid the
appearance of inconsistency in detail; but nothing can be more removed
from vagueness and hesitation than their definite positive statements.
It is with them that the writer on Christianity has to deal.

M. Renan's method is--whilst of course not believing them, yet not
supposing conscious fraud--to treat these records as the description of
natural, unsought visions on the part of people who meant no harm, but
who believed what they wished to believe. They are the story of a great
mistake, but a mistake proceeding simply, in the most natural way in
the world, from excess of "idealism" and attachment. Unaffected by the
circumstance that there never were narratives less ideal, and more
straightforwardly real--that they seem purposely framed to be a
contrast to professed accounts of visions, and to exclude the
possibility of their being confounded with such accounts; and that the
alleged numbers who saw, the alleged frequency and repetition and
variation of the instances, and the alleged time over which the
appearances extended, and after which they absolutely ceased, make the
hypothesis of involuntary and undesigned allusions of regret and
passion infinitely different from what it might be in the case of one
or two persons, or for a transitory period of excitement and
crisis--unaffected by such considerations, M. Renan proceeds to tell,
in his own way, the story of what he supposes to have occurred,
without, of course, admitting the smallest real foundation for what was
so positively asserted, but with very little reproach or discredit to
the ardent and undoubting assertors. He begins with a statement which
is meant to save the character of the Teacher. "Jesus, though he spoke
unceasingly of resurrection, of new life, had never said quite clearly
that he should rise again in the flesh." He says this with the texts
before him, for he quotes them and classifies them in a note. But this
is his point of departure, laid down without qualification. Yet if
there is anything which the existing records do say distinctly, it is
that Jesus Christ said over and over again that He should rise again,
and that He fixed the time within which He should rise. M. Renan is not
bound to believe them. But he must take them as he finds them; and on
this capital point either we know nothing at all, and have no evidence
to go upon, or the evidence is simply inverted by M. Renan's assertion.
There may, of course, be reasons for believing one part of a man's
evidence and disbelieving another; but there is nothing in this case
but incompatibility with a theory to make this part of the evidence
either more or less worthy of credit than any other part. What is
certain is that it is in the last degree weak and uncritical to lay
down, as the foundation and first pre-requisite of an historical view,
a position which the records on which the view professes to be based
emphatically and unambiguously contradict. Whatever we may think of it,
the evidence undoubtedly is, if evidence there is at all, that Jesus
Christ did say, though He could not get His disciples at the time to
understand and believe Him, that He should rise again on the third day.
What M. Renan had to do, if he thought the contrary, was not to assume,
but to prove, that in these repeated instances in which they report His
announcements, the Evangelists mistook or misquoted the words of their

He accepts, however, their statement that no one at first hoped that
the words would be made good; and he proceeds to account for the
extraordinary belief which, in spite of this original incredulity, grew
up, and changed the course of things and the face of the world. We
admire and respect many things in M. Renan; but it seems to us that his
treatment of this matter is simply the _ne plus ultra_ of the
degradation of the greatest of issues by the application to it of
sentiment unworthy of a silly novel. In the first place, he lays down
on general grounds that, though the disciples had confessedly given up
all hope, it yet _was natural_ that they should expect to see their
master alive again. "Mais I'enthousiasme et l'amour ne connaissent pas
les situations sans issue." Do they not? Are death and separation such
light things to triumph over that imagination finds it easy to cheat
them? "Ils se jouent de l'impossible et, plutot que d'abdiquer
l'esperance, ils font violence a toute realite." Is this an account of
the world of fact or the world of romance? The disciples did not hope;
but, says M. Renan, vague words about the future had dropped from their
master, and these were enough to build upon, and to suggest that they
would soon see him back. In vain it is said that in fact they did not
expect it. "Une telle croyance etait d'ailleurs si naturelle, que la
foi des disciples aurait suffi pour la creer de toutes pieces." Was it
indeed--in spite of Enoch and Elias, cases of an entirely different
kind--so natural to think that the ruined leader of a crushed cause,
whose hopeless followers had seen the last of him amid the lowest
miseries of torment and scorn, should burst the grave?

Il devait arriver [he proceeds] pour Jesus ce qui arrive pour tous
les hommes qui ont captive l'attention de leurs semblables. Le
monde, habitue a leur attribuer des vertus surhumaines, ne peut
admettre qu'ils aient subi la loi injuste, revoltante, inique, du
trepas commun.... La mort est chose si absurde quand elle frappe
l'homme de genie ou l'homme d'un grand coeur, que le peuple ne
croit pas a la possibilite d'une telle erreur de la nature. Les
heros ne meurent pas.

The history of the world presents a large range of instances to test
the singular assertion that death is so "absurd" that "the people"
cannot believe that great and good men literally die. But would it be
easy to match the strangeness of a philosopher and a man of genius
gravely writing this down as a reason--not why, at the interval of
centuries, a delusion should grow up--but why, on the very morrow of a
crucifixion and burial, the disciples should have believed that all the
dreadful work they had seen a day or two before was in very fact and
reality reversed? We confess we do not know what human experience is if
it countenances such a supposition as this.

From this antecedent probability he proceeds to the facts. "The Sabbath
day which followed the burial was occupied with these thoughts....
Never was the rest of the Sabbath so fruitful." They all, the women
especially, thought of him all day long in his bed of spices, watched
over by angels; and the assurance grew that the wicked men who had
killed him would not have their triumph, that he would not be left to
decay, that he would be wafted on high to that Kingdom of the Father of
which he had spoken. "Nous le verrons encore; nous entendrons sa voix
charmante; c'est en vain qu'ils l'auront tue." And as, with the Jews, a
future life implied a resurrection of the body, the shape which their
hope took was settled. "Reconnaitre que la mort pouvait etre
victorieuse de Jesus, de celui qui venait de supprimer son empire,
c'etait le comble de l'absurdite." It is, we suppose, irrelevant to
remark that we find not the faintest trace of this sense of absurdity.
The disciples, he says, had no choice between hopelessness and "an
heroic affirmation"; and he makes the bold surmise that "un homme
penetrant aurait pu annoncer _des le samedi_ que Jesus revivrait." This
may be history, or philosophy, or criticism; what it is _not_ is the
inference naturally arising from the only records we have of the time
spoken of. But the force of historical imagination dispenses with the
necessity of extrinsic support. "La petite societe chretienne, ce
jour-la, opera le veritable miracle: elle ressuscita Jesus en son coeur
par l'amour intense qu'elle lui porta. Elle decida que Jesus ne
mourrait pas." The Christian Church has done many remarkable things;
but it never did anything so strange, or which so showed its power, as
when it took that resolution.

How was the decision, involuntary and unconscious, and guiltless of
intentional deception, if we can conceive of such an attitude of mind,
carried out? M. Renan might leave the matter in obscurity. But he sees
his way, in spite of incoherent traditions and the contradictions which
they present, to a "sufficient degree of probability." The belief in
the Resurrection originated in an hallucination of the disordered fancy
of Mary Magdalen, whose mind was thrown off its balance by her
affection and sorrow; and, once suggested, the idea rapidly spread, and
produced, through the Christian society, a series of corresponding
visions, firmly believed to be real. But Mary Magdalen was the founder
of it all:--

Elle eut, en ce moment solennel, une part d'action tout a fait
hors ligne. C'est elle qu'il faut suivre pas a pas; car elle
porta, ce jour-la, pendant une heure, tout le travail de la
conscience chretienne; son temoignage decida la foi de
l'avenir.... La vision legere s'ecarte et lui dit: "Ne me touche
pas!" Peu a peu l'ombre disparait. Mais le miracle de l'amour est
accompli. Ce que Cephas n'a pu faire, Marie l'a faite; elle a su
tirer la vie, la parole douce et penetrante, du tombeau vide. Il
ne s'agit plus de consequences a deduire ni de conjectures a
former. Marie a vu et entendu. La resurrection a son premier
temoin immediat.

He proceeds to criticise the accounts which ascribe the first vision to
others; but in reality Mary Magdalen, he says, has done most, after the
great Teacher, for the foundation of Christianity. "Queen and patroness
of idealists," she was able to "impose upon all the sacred vision of
her impassioned soul." All rests upon her first burst of entbusiasm,
which gave the signal and kindled the faith of others. "Sa grande
affirmation de femme, 'il est ressuscite,' a ete la base de la foi de

Paul ne parle pas de la vision de Marie et reporte tout l'honneur
de la premiere apparition sur Pierre. Mais cette expression est
tres~inexacte. Pierre ne vit que le caveau vide, le suaire et le
linceul. Marie seule aima assez pour depasser la nature et faire
revivre le fantome du maitre exquis. Dans ces sortes de crises
merveilleuses, voir apres les autres n'est rien; tout le merite
est de voir pour la premiere fois; car les autres modelent ensuite
leur vision sur le type recu. C'est le propre des belles
organisations de concevoir l'image promptement, avec justesse et
par une sorte de sens intime du dessin. La gloire de la
resurrection appartient donc a Marie de Magdala. Apres Jesus,
c'est Marie qui a le plus fait pour la fondation du Christianisme.
L'ombre creee par les sens delicats de Madeleine plane encore sur
le monde.... Loin d'ici, raison impuissante! Ne va pas appliquer
une froide analyse a ce chef-d'oeuvre de l'idealisme et de
l'amour. Si la sagesse renonce a consoler cette pauvre race
humaine, trahie par le sort, laisse la folie tenter l'aventure. Ou
est le sage qui a donne au monde autant de joie, que la possedee
Marie de Magdala?

He proceeds to describe, on the same supposition, the other events of
the day, which he accepts as having in a certain very important sense
happened, though, of course, only in the sense which excludes their
reality. No doubt, for a series of hallucinations, anything will do in
the way of explanation. The scene of the evening was really believed to
have taken place as described, though it was the mere product of chance
noises and breaths of air on minds intently expectant; and we are
bidden to remember "that in these decisive hours a current of wind, a
creaking window, an accidental rustle, settle the belief of nations for
centuries." But at any rate it was a decisive hour:--

Tels furent les incidents de ce jour qui a fixe le sort de
l'humanite. L'opinion que Jesus etait ressuscite s'y fonda d'une
maniere irrevocable. La secte, qu'on avait cru eteindre en tuant
le maitre, fut des lors assuree d'un immense avenir.

We are willing to admit that Christian writers have often spoken
unreally and unsatisfactorily enough in their comments on this subject.
But what Christian comment, hard, rigid, and narrow in its view of
possibilities, ever equalled this in its baselessness and supreme
absence of all that makes a view look like the truth? It puts the most
extravagant strain on documents which, truly or falsely, but at any
rate in the most consistent and uniform manner, assert something
different. What they assert in every conceivable form, and with
distinct detail, are facts; it is not criticism, but mere arbitrary
license, to say that all these stand for visions. The issue of truth or
falsehood is intelligible; the middle supposition of confusion and
mistake in that which is the basis of everything, and is definitely and
in such varied ways repeated, is trifling and incredible. We may
disbelieve, if we please, St. Paul's enumeration of the appearances
after the Resurrection; but to resolve it into a series of visions is
to take refuge in the most unlikely of guesses. And, when we take into
view the whole of the case--not merely the life and teaching out of
which everything grew, but the aim and character of the movement which
ensued, and the consequences of it, long tested and still continuing,
to the history and development of mankind--we find it hard to measure
the estimate of probability which is satisfied with the supposition
that the incidents of one day of folly and delusion irrevocably decided
the belief of ages, and the life and destiny of millions. Without the
belief in the Resurrection there would have been no Christianity; if
anything may be laid down as certain, this may. We should probably
never have even heard of the great Teacher; He would not have been
believed in, He would not have been preached to the world; the impulse
to conversion would have been wanting; and all that was without
parallel good and true and fruitful in His life would have perished,
and have been lost in Judaea. And the belief in the Resurrection M.
Renan thinks due to an hour of over-excited fancy in a woman agonized
by sorrow and affection. When we are presented with an hypothesis on
the basis of intrinsic probability, we cannot but remember that the
power of delusion and self-deception, though undoubtedly shown in very
remarkable instances, must yet be in a certain proportion to what it
originates and produces, and that it is controlled by the numerous
antagonistic influences of the world. Crazy women have founded
superstitions; but we cannot help thinking that it would be more
difficult than M. Renan supposes for crazy women to found a world-wide
religion for ages, branching forth into infinite forms, and tested by
its application to all varieties of civilisation, and to national and
personal character. M. Renan points to La Salette. But the assumption
would be a bold one that the La Salette people could have invented a
religion for Christendom which would stand the wear of eighteen
centuries, and satisfy such different minds. Pious frauds, as he says,
may have built cathedrals. But you must take Christianity for what it
has proved itself to be in its hard and unexampled trial. To start an
order, a sect, an institution, even a local tradition or local set of
miracles, on foundations already laid, is one thing; it is not the same
to be the spring of the most serious and the deepest of moral movements
for the improvement of the world, the most unpretending and the most
careless of all outward form and show, the most severely searching and
universal and lasting in its effects on mankind. To trace that back to
the Teacher without the intervention of the belief in the Resurrection
is manifestly impossible. We know what He is said to have taught; we
know what has come of that teaching in the world at large; but if the
link which connects the two be not a real one, it is vain to explain it
by the dreams of affection. It was not a matter of a moment or an hour,
but of days and weeks continually; not the assertion of one imaginative
mourner or two, but of a numerous and variously constituted body of
people. The story, if it was not true, was not delusion, but imposture.
We certainly cannot be said to know much of what happens in the genesis
of religions. But that between such a teacher and such teaching there
should intervene such a gigantic falsehood, whether imposture or
delusion, is unquestionably one of the hardest violations of
probability conceivable, as well as one of the most desperate
conclusions as regards the capacity of mankind for truth. Few thoughts
can be less endurable than that the wisest and best of our race, men of
the soberest and most serious tempers, and most candid and judicial
minds, should have been the victims and dupes of the mad affection of a
crazy Magdalen, of "ces touchantes demoniaques, ces pecheresses
converties, ces vraies fondatrices du Christianisme." M. Renan shrinks
from solving such a question by the hypothesis of conscious fraud. To
solve it by sentiment is hardly more respectful either to the world or
to truth.

We have left ourselves no room to speak of the best part of M. Renan's
new volume, his historical comment on the first period of Christianity.
We do not pretend to go along with him in his general principles of
judgment, or in many of his most important historical conclusions. But
here he is, what he is not in the early chapters, on ground where his
critical faculty comes fairly into play. He is, we think, continually
paradoxical and reckless in his statements; and his book is more
thickly strewn than almost any we know with half-truths, broad axioms
which require much paring down to be of any use, but which are made by
him to do duty for want of something stronger. But, from so keen and so
deeply interested a writer, it is our own fault if we do not learn a
good deal. And we may study in its full development that curious
combination, of which M. Renan is the most conspicuous example, of
profound veneration for Christianity and sympathy with its most
characteristic aspects, with the scientific impulse to destroy in the
public mind the belief in its truth.



_Guardian_, 14th April 1880.


The object of M. Renan's lectures at St. George's Hall is, as we
understand him, not merely to present a historical sketch of the
influence of Rome on the early Church, but to reconcile the historical
imagination with the results of his own and kindred speculations on the
origin of Christianity. He has, with a good faith which we do not
question, investigated the subject and formed his conclusions upon it.
He on the present occasion assumes these investigations, and that he,
at any rate, is satisfied with their result. He hardly pretends to
carry the mixed popular audience whom he addresses into any real
inquiry into the grounds on which he has satisfied himself that the
received account of Christianity is not the true one. But he is aware
that all minds are more or less consciously impressed with the broad
difficulty that, after all attempts to trace the origin of Christianity
to agencies and influences of well-understood human character, the
disproportion between causes and effects still continues to appear
excessive. The great Christian tradition with its definite beliefs
about the conditions of man's existence, which has shaped the fortunes
and determined the future of mankind on earth, is in possession of the
world as much as the great tradition of right and wrong, or of the
family, or of the State. How did it get there? It is most astonishing
that it should have done so, what is the account of it? Of course
people may inquire into this question as they may inquire into the
basis of morality, or the origin of the family or the State. But here,
as on those subjects, reason, and that imagination which is one of the
forces of reason, by making the mind duly sensible of the magnitude of
ideas and alternatives, are exacting. M. Renan's task is to make the
purely human origin of Christianity, its origin in the circumstances,
the beliefs, the ideas, and the moral and political conditions of the
first centuries, seem to us _natural_--as natural in the history of the
world as other great and surprising events and changes--as natural as
the growth and the fall of the Roman Empire, or as the Reformation, or
the French Revolution. He is well qualified to sound the depths of his
undertaking and to meet its heavy exigencies. With a fuller knowledge
of books, and a closer familiarity than most men with the thoughts and
the events of the early ages, with a serious value for the idea of
religion as such, and certainly with no feeble powers of recalling the
past and investing it with colour and life, he has to show how these
things can be--how a religion with such attributes as he freely
ascribes to the Gospel, so grand, so pure, so lasting, can have sprung
up not merely _in_ but _from_ a most corrupt and immoral time, and can
have its root in the most portentous and impossible of falsehoods. It
must be said to be a bold undertaking.

M. Renan has always aimed at doing justice to what he assailed;
Christians, who realise what they believe, will say that he patronises
their religion, and naturally they resent such patronage. Such candour
adds doubtless to the literary effect of his method; but it is only due
to him to acknowledge the fairness of his admissions. He starts with
the declaration that there never was a nobler moment in human history
than the beginnings of the Christian Church. It was the "most heroic
episode in the annals of mankind." "Never did man draw forth from his
bosom more devotion, more love of the ideal, than in the 150 years
which elapsed between the sweet Galilean vision and the death of Marcus
Aurelius." It was not only that the saints were admirable and beautiful
in their lives; they had the secret of the future, and laid down the
lines on which the goodness and hope of the coming world were to move."
Never was the religious conscience more eminently creative, never did
it lay down with more authority the law of future ages."

Now, if this is not mere rhetoric, what does it come to? It means not
merely that there was here a phenomenon, not only extraordinary but
unique, in the development of human character, but that here was
created or evolved what was to guide and form the religious ideas of
mankind; here were the springs of what has reached through all the ages
of expanding humanity to our own days, of what is best and truest and
deepest and holiest. M. Renan, at any rate, does not think this an
illusion of Christian prepossessions, a fancy picture of a mythic age
of gold, of an unhistorical period of pure and primitive antiquity. Put
this view of things by the side of any of the records or the literature
of the time remaining to us; if not St. Paul's Epistles nor Tacitus nor
Lucian, then Virgil and Horace and Cicero, or Seneca or Epictetus or
Marcus Aurelius. Is it possible by any effort of imagination to body
forth the links which can solidly connect the ideas which live and work
and grow on one side, with the ideas which are represented by the facts
and principles of the other side? Or is it any more possible to connect
what we know of Christian ideas and convictions by a bond of natural
and intelligible, if not necessary derivation, with what we know of
Jewish ideas and Jewish habits of thought at the time in question? Yet
that is the thing to be done, to be done rigorously, to be done clearly
and distinctly, by those who are satisfied to find the impulses and
faith which gave birth to Christianity amid the seething confusions of
the time which saw its beginning; absolutely identical with those wild
movements in origin and nature, and only by a strange, fortunate
accident immeasurably superior to them.

This question M. Renan has not answered; as far as we can see he has
not perceived that it is the first question for him to answer, in
giving a philosophical account of the history of Christianity. Instead,
he tells us, and he is going still further to tell us, how Rome and its
wonderful influences acted on Christianity, and helped to assure its
victories. But, first of all, what is that Christianity, and whence did
it come, which Rome so helped? It came, he says, from Judaism; "it was
Judaism under its Christian form which Rome propagated without wishing
it, yet with such mighty energy that from a certain epoch Romanism and
Christianity became synonymous words"; it was Jewish monotheism, the
religion the Roman hated and despised, swallowing up by its contrast
all that was local, legendary, and past belief, and presenting one
religious law to the countless nationalities of the Empire, which like
itself was one, and like itself above all nationalities.

This may all be true, and is partially true; but how did that hated and
partial Judaism break through its trammels, and become a religion for
all men, and a religion to which all men gathered? The Roman
organisation was an admirable vehicle for Christianity; but the vehicle
does not make that which it carries, or account for it. M. Renan's
picture of the Empire abounds with all those picturesque details which
he knows so well where to find, and knows so well, too, how to place in
an interesting light. There were then, of course, conditions of the
time more favourable to the Christian Church than would have been the
conditions of other times. There was a certain increased liberty of
thought, though there were also some pretty strong obstacles to it. M.
Renan has Imperial proclivities, and reminds us truly enough that
despotisms are sometimes more tolerant than democracies, and that
political liberty is not the same as spiritual and mental freedom, and
does not always favour it. It may be partially true, as he says, that
"Virgil and Tibullus show that Roman harshness and cruelty were
softening down"; that "equality and the rights of men were preached by
the Stoics"; that "woman was more her own mistress, and slaves were
better treated than in the days of Cato"; that "very humane and just
laws were enacted under the very worst emperors; that Tiberius and Nero
were able financiers"; that "after the terrible butcheries of the old
centuries, mankind was crying with the voice of Virgil for peace and
pity." A good many qualifications and abatements start up in our minds
on reading these statements, and a good many formidable doubts suggest
themselves, if we can at all believe what has come down to us of the
history of these times. It is hard to accept quite literally the bold
assertion that "love for the poor, sympathy with all men, almsgiving,
were becoming virtues." But allow this as the fair and hopeful side of
the Empire. Yet all this is a long way from accounting for the effects
on the world of Christianity, even in the dim, vaporous form in which
M. Renan imagines it, much more in the actual concrete reality in
which, if we know anything, it appeared. "Christianity," he says,
"responded to the cry for peace and pity of all weary and tender
souls." No doubt it did; but what was it that responded, and what was
its consolation, and whence was its power drawn? What was there in the
known thoughts or hopes or motives of men at the time to furnish such a
response? "Christianity," he says, "could only have been born and
spread at a time when men had no longer a country"; "it was that
explosion of social and religious ideas which became inevitable after
Augustus had put an end to political struggles," after his policy had
killed "patriotism." It is true enough that the first Christians,
believing themselves subjects of an Eternal King and in view of an
eternal world, felt themselves strangers and pilgrims in this; yet did
the rest of the Roman world under the Caesars feel that they had no
country, and was the idea of patriotism extinct in the age of Agricola?
But surely the real question worth asking is, What was it amid the
increasing civilisation and prosperous peace of Rome under the first
Emperors which made these Christians relinquish the idea of a country?
From whence did Christianity draw its power to set its followers in
inflexible opposition to the intensest worship of the State that the
world has ever known?

To tell us the conditions under which all this occurred is not to tell
us the cause of it. We follow with interest the sketches which M. Renan
gives of these conditions, though it must be said that his
generalisations are often extravagantly loose and misleading. We do
indeed want to know more of those wonderful but hidden days which
intervene between the great Advent, with its subsequent Apostolic age,
and the days when the Church appears fully constituted and recognised.
German research and French intelligence and constructiveness have done
something to help us, but not much. But at the end of all such
inquiries appears the question of questions, What was the beginning and
root of it all? Christians have a reasonable answer to the question.
There is none, there is not really the suggestion of one, in M. Renan's
account of the connection of Christianity with the Roman world.


_Guardian_, 21st April 1880.

M. Renan has pursued the line of thought indicated in his first
lecture, and in his succeeding lectures has developed the idea that
Christianity, as we know it, was born in Imperial Rome, and that in its
visible form and active influence on the world it was the manifest
product of Roman instincts and habits; it was the spirit of the Empire
passing into a new body and accepting in exchange for political power,
as it slowly decayed and vanished, a spiritual supremacy as unrivalled
and as astonishing. The "Legend of the Roman Church--Peter and Paul,"
"Rome the Centre in which Church Authority grew up," and "Rome the
Capital of Catholicism," are the titles of the three lectures in which
this thesis is explained and illustrated. A lecture on Marcus Aurelius,
at the Royal Institution, though not one of the series, is obviously
connected with it, and concludes M. Renan's work in England.

Except the brilliant bits of writing which, judging from the full
abstracts given in translation in the _Times_, appear to have been
interspersed, and except the undoubting self-confidence and _aplomb_
with which a historical survey, reversing the common ideas of mankind,
was delivered, there was little new to be learned from M. Renan's
treatment of his subject. Perhaps it may be described as the Roman
Catholic theory of the rise of the Church, put in an infidel point of
view. It is Roman Catholic in concentrating all interest, all the
sources of influence and power in the Christian religion and Christian
Church, from the first moment at Rome. But for Rome the Christian
Church would not have existed. The Church is inconceivable without
Rome, and Rome as the seat and centre of its spiritual activity.
Everything else is forgotten. There were Christian Churches all over
the Empire, in Syria, in Egypt, in Africa, in Asia Minor, in Gaul, in
Greece. A great body of Christian literature, embodying the ideas and
character of Christians all over the Empire, was growing up, and this
was not Roman and had nothing to do with Rome; it was Greek as much as
Latin, and local, not metropolitan, in its characteristics.
Christianity was spreading here, there, and everywhere, slowly and
imperceptibly as the tide comes in, or as cells multiply in the growing
tissues of organised matter; it was spreading under its many distinct
guides and teachers, and taking possession of the cities and provinces
of the Empire. All this great movement, the real foundation of all that
was to be, is overlooked and forgotten in the attention which is fixed
on Rome and confined to it. As in the Roman Catholic view, M. Renan
brings St. Paul and St. Peter together to Rome, to found that great
Imperial Church in which the manifold and varied history of Christendom
is merged and swallowed up. Only, of course, M. Renan brings them there
as "fanatics" instead of Apostles and martyrs. We know something about
St. Peter and St. Paul. We know them at any rate from their writings.
In M. Renan's representation they stand opposed to one another as
leaders of factions, to whose fierce hatreds and jealousies there is
nothing comparable. "All the differences," he is reported to say,
"which divide orthodox folks, heretics, schismatics, in our own day,
are as nothing compared with the dissension between Peter and Paul." It
is, as every one knows, no new story; but there it is in M. Renan in
all its crudity, as if it were the most manifest and accredited of
truths. M. Renan first brings St. Paul to Rome. "It was," he says, "a
great event in the world's history, almost as pregnant with
consequences as his conversion." How it was so M. Renan does not
explain; but he brings St. Peter to Rome also, "following at the heels
of St. Paul," to counteract and neutralise his influence. And who is
this St. Peter? He represents the Jewish element; and what that element
was at Rome M. Renan takes great pains to put before us. He draws an
elaborate picture of the Jews and Jewish quarter of Rome--a "longshore
population" of beggars and pedlars, with a Ghetto resembling the
Alsatia of _The Fortunes of Nigel_, seething with dirt and fanaticism.
These were St. Peter's congeners at Rome, whose ideas and claims,
"timid trimmer" though he was, he came to Rome to support against the
Hellenism and Protestantism of St. Paul. And at Rome they, both of
them, probably, perished in Nero's persecution, and that is the history
of the success of Christianity. "Only fanatics can found anything.
Judaism lives on because of the intense frenzy of its prophets and
annalists, Christianity by means of its martyrs."

But a certain Clement arose after their deaths, to arrange a
reconciliation between the fiercely antagonistic factions of St. Peter
and St. Paul. How he harmonised them M. Renan leaves us to imagine; but
he did reconcile them; he gathered in his own person the authority of
the Roman Church; he lectured the Corinthian Church on its turbulence
and insubordination; he anticipated, M. Renan remarked, almost in
words, the famous saying of the French Archbishop of Rouen, "My clergy
are my regiment, and they are drilled to obey like a regiment." On this
showing, Clement might almost be described as the real founder of
Christianity, of which neither St. Peter nor St. Paul, with their
violent oppositions, can claim to be the complete representative; at
any rate he was the first Pope, complete in all his attributes. And in
accordance with this beginning M. Renan sees in the Roman Church,
first, the centre in which Church authority grew up, and next, the
capital of Catholicism. In Rome the congregation gave up its rights to
its elders, and these rights the elders surrendered to the single ruler
or Bishop. The creation of the Episcopate was eminently the work of
Rome; and this Bishop of Rome caught the full spirit of the Caesar, on
whose decay he became great; and troubling himself little about the
deep questions which exercised the minds and wrung the hearts of
thinkers and mystics, he made himself the foundation of order,
authority, and subordination to all parts of the Imperial world.

Such is M. Renan's explanation of the great march and triumph of the
Christian Church. The Roman Empire, which we had supposed was the
natural enemy of the Church, was really the founder of all that made
the Church strong, and bequeathed to the Church its prerogatives and
its spirit, and partly its machinery. We should hardly gather from this
picture that there was, besides, a widespread Catholic Church, with its
numerous centres of life and thought and teaching, and with very slight
connection, in the early times, with the Church of the capital. And, in
the next place, we should gather from it that there was little more in
the Church than a powerful and strongly built system of centralised
organisation and control; we should hardly suspect the existence of the
real questions which interested or disturbed it; we should hardly
suspect the existence of a living and all-engrossing theology, or the
growth and energy in it of moral forces, or that the minds of
Christians about the world were much more busy with the discipline of
life, the teaching and meaning of the inspired words of Scripture, and
the ever-recurring conflict with perverseness and error, than with
their dependent connection on the Imperial Primacy of Rome, and the
lessons they were to learn from it.

Disguised as it may be, M. Renan's lectures represent not history, but
scepticism as to all possibility of history. Pictures of a Jewish
Ghetto, with its ragged mendicants smelling of garlic, in places where
Christians have been wont to think of the Saints; ingenious
explanations as to the way in which the "club" of the Christian Church
surrendered its rights to a _bureau_ of its officers; exhortations to
liberty and tolerance; side-glances at the contrasts of national gifts
and destinies and futures in the first century and in the nineteenth;
felicitous parallels and cunning epigrams, subtle combinations of the
pathetic, the egotistical, and the cynical, all presented with calm
self-reliance and in the most finished and distinguished of styles, may
veil for the moment from the audience which such things amuse, and even
interest, the hollowness which lies beneath. But the only meaning of
the lectures is to point out more forcibly than ever that besides the
obvious riddles of man's life there is one stranger and more appalling
still--that a religion which M. Renan can never speak of without
admiration and enthusiasm is based on a self-contradiction and deluding
falsehood, more dreadful in its moral inconsistencies than the grave.

We cannot help feeling that M. Renan himself is a true representative
of that highly cultivated society of the Empire which would have
crushed Christianity, and which Christianity, vanquished. He still owes
something, and owns it, to what he has abandoned--"I am often tempted
to say, as Job said, in our Latin version, _Etiam si occident me, in
ipso sperabo_. But the next moment all is gone--all is but a symbol and
a dream." There is no possibility of solving the religious problem. He
relapses into profound disbelief of the worth and success of moral
efforts after truth. His last word is an exhortation to tolerance for
"fanatics," as the best mode of extinguishing them. "If, instead of
leading _Polyeucte_ to punishment, the magistrate, with a smile and
shake of the hand, had sent him home again, _Polyeucte_ would not have
been caught offending again; perhaps, in his old age, he would even
have laughed at his escapade, and would have become a sensible man." It
is as obvious and natural in our days to dispose of such difficulties
in this way with a smile and a sneer as it was in the first century
with a shout--_"Christiani ad leones."_ But Corneille was as good a
judge of the human heart as M. Renan. He had gauged the powers of faith
and conviction; he certainly would have expected to find his
_Polyeucte_ more obstinate.



_Souvenirs d'Enfance et de Jeunesse_. Par Ernest Renan. _Guardian_,
18th July 1883.

The sketches which M. Renan gives us of his early life are what we
should have looked for from the writer of the _Vie de Jesus_. The story
of the disintegration of a faith is supposed commonly to have something
tragic about it. We expect it to be a story of heart-breaking
disenchantments, of painful struggles, of fierce recoils against
ancient beliefs and the teachers who bolstered them up; of indignation
at having been so long deceived; of lamentation over years wasted in
the service of falsehood. The confessions of St. Augustine, the
biography of Blanco White, the letters of Lamennais, at least agree in
the witness which they bear to the bitter pangs and anxieties amid
which, in their case, the eventful change came about. Even Cardinal
Newman's _Apologia_, self-restrained and severely controlled as it is,
shows no doubtful traces of the conflicts and sorrows out of which he
believed himself to have emerged to a calmer and surer light. But M.
Renan's story is an idyl, not a tragedy. It is sunny, placid,
contented. He calls his life the "_charmante promenade_" which the
"cause of all good," whatever that may be, has granted him through the
realities of existence. There are in it no storms of passion, no
cruelties of circumstances, no deplorable mistakes, no complaints, no
recriminations. His life flows on smoothly, peacefully, happily, with
little of rapids and broken waters, gradually and in the most natural
and inevitable way enlarging itself, moving in new and wider channels
and with increased volume and force, but never detaching itself and

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