« ZurückWeiter »
ART. VI.- RUSKIN ON THE CONSTRUCTION
Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds. By John Ruskin,
M.A. London, 1851.
MR. RUSKIN is the most eloquent writer of the day. Art is his special realm: but Religion, even more than Art, exalts his spirit to its noblest utterance. He is distinguished by bis worship of Reality, and by his contemptuous rejection of whatever is not the best and truest of its kind. The Lamps that guide his feet are Sincerity and Truth, and the artificial is as abhorrent to him in Art as in Prayer. As he has deeply studied the higher functions of Art in its relations to Religion, he has naturally become as intolerant of the unreal in the one as in the other. Fictions of the imagination and the senses supply no worthy inspirations for one who would rear Temples of the severest workmanship, on foundations that cannot be moved. Mr. Ruskin, like all earnest minds, feeling that Truth is one in the spirit of it to all natures similarly constituted, has a vision of a Universal Church, and in the construction of his Sheepfolds he would simply take care that the stakes are set in the depths of man's nature and therefore of God's, if man is His child, and not in some loose, sandy, accretions, superficially prominent. By the Construction of Sheepfolds he means the construction of the Christian Church—not architecturally but spiritually. The gross fallacies, assumptions, confusions, and idle pretences to authority which shelter themselves under the word Church, shock Mr. Ruskin's sense of reality and truth. He finds it used for anything and everything that suits an Ecclesiastic's temper or purpose : and he simply inquires what is the one Scripture acceptation of the word, and why is it not always confined to that acceptation?
Here is an example of the looseness with which the word is used. An Oxford Divine says, “ It is clearly within the province of the state to establish a national Church, or external institution of certain forms of worship.” This interpretation Mr. Ruskin substitutes in certain passages of Scripture for the word Church, with these results, “Unto the angel of the external institution of certain forms of worship of Ephesus, write," &c.; “ Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphos, and the external institution of certain forms of worship which is in his house."
The one grand scriptural sense of the word is that of a congregation or assembly of men, but under three Christian modifications :- 1st, that of the whole Body of Christ, the Faithful in all ages; 2ndly, all the professing believers in Christ existing on earth at a given time; and 3rdly, all the professing believers living in a certain city, place, or house. Proceeding on this Apostolic conception of the Church as including all orders of men who profess belief, Mr. Ruskin enters upon a fourfold inquiry : 1, the distinctive characters of the Church : 2, the authority of the Church : 3, the authority of the clergy over the Church : 4, the connection of the Church with the State. The first and second inquiries have two branches, of the Visible and the Invisible Church; the third and fourth relate to the Visible Church alone.
1. “ What are the distinctive characters of the Invisible Church ; that is to say, What is it which makes a person a member of this Church, and how is he to be known for such ? Wide question—if we had to take cognizance of all that has been written respecting it, remarkable as it has always been for quantity rather than carefulness, and full of confusion between Visible and Invisible: even the Article of the Church of England being ambiguous in its first clause : "The Visible Church is a congregation of Faithful men.' As if ever it had been possible, except for God, to see Faith! or to know a Faithful man by sight. And there is little else written on this question, without some such quick confusion of the Visible and Invisible Church ;-needless, and unaccountable confusion. For evidently, the Church which is composed of Faithful men is the one true, indivisible and indiscernible Church, built on the foundation of Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. It includes all who have ever fallen asleep in Christ, and all yet unborn, who are to be saved in him ; its Body is as yet imperfect; it will not be perfected till the last saved human spirit is gathered to its God. A man becomes a member of this Church only by believing in Christ with all his heart ; nor is he positively recognizable for a member of it, when he has become so, by any one but God, not even by himself. Nevertheless, there are certain signs by which Christ's sheep may be guessed at. Not by their being in any definite Fold—for many are lost sheep at times—but by their sheeplike behaviour ; and a great many are indeed sheep which, on the far mountain side, in their peacefulness, we take for stones. To themselves, the best proof of their being Christ's sheep is to find themselves on Christ's shoulders; and between them, there are certain sympathies, expressed in the Apostles' Creed by the term • Communion of Saints,' by which they may in a sort recognise each other, and so become verily visible to each other for mutual comfort.
2. “ The Limits of the Visible Church, or of the Church in the second Scriptural sense, are not so easy to define : they are awkward questions, these, of stake-nets. It has been ingeniously and plausibly endeavoured to make Baptism a sign of admission into the Visible Church ; but absurdly enough ; for we know that half the baptized people in the world are very visible rogues, believing neither in God nor devil ; it is flat blasphemy to call these Visible Christians; we also know that the Holy Ghost was sometimes given before Baptism, and it would be absurdity to call a man on whom the Holy Ghost had fallen, an Invisible Christian. The only rational distinction is that which practically, though not professedly, we always assume. If we hear a man profess himself a believer in God and in Christ, and detect him in no glaring and wilful violation of God's law, we speak of him as a Christian : and on the other hand, if we hear him or see him denying Christ, either in his words or conduct, we tacitly assume him not to be a Christian. A mawkish charity prevents us from outspeaking in this matter, and from earnestly endeavouring to discern who are Christians and who are not; and this I hold to be one of the chief sins of the Church in the present day; for these wicked men are put to no shame; and better men are encouraged in their failings, or caused to hesitate in their virtues, by the example of those whom, in false charity, they choose to call Christians. Now, it being granted that it is impossible to know, determinedly, who are Christians indeed, that is no reason for utter negligence in separating the nominal, apparent, or possible Christian, from the professed Pagan or enemy of God. We spend much time in arguing about efficacy of sacraments and some such other mysteries ; but we do not act upon the very certain tests which are clear and visible. We know that Christ's people are not thieves--not liars--not busybodies--not dishonest--not avaricious --not wasteful—not cruel. Let us then get ourselves well clear of thieves-liars—wasteful people- avaricious people-cheating people, people who do not pay their debts. Let us assure them that they, at least, do not belong to the Visible Church : and having thus got that Church into decent shape and cohesion, it will be time to think of drawing the stake-nets closer.”—P. 14.
3. This Idea of a Church, for its practical enforcement suggests the next question, what is the Authority of the Church? The Authority of the Invisible Church is nothing, because we cannot tell who are its members. The presumed Infallibility of the Church our author disposes by reckoning up fourteen direct injunctions, in Scriptural addresses to members of the Invisible Church, “not to be deceived."
“Now, no one could put up with Puseyism more patiently; if its fallacies were merely from peculiar temperaments yielding to peculiar temptations. But its bold refusals to read plain English ; its elaborate adjustments of tight bandages over its own eyes, as wholesome preparation for a walk among traps and pitfalls ; its daring trustfulness in its own clair-voyance all the time, and declarations that every pit it falls into is a seventh heaven ; and that it is pleasant and profitable to break its legs ;—with all this it is difficult to have patience. One thinks of the highwayman more with his eyes shut, in the Arabian Nights; and wonders whether any kind of scourging would prevail upon the Anglican highwayman to open first one and then the other.''
4. Now, if there is no Infallibility, nor consequent Authority, in the Invisible Church, there can be none in the Visible, for we have “to alloy the small wisdom and light weight of Invisible Christians, with large per-centage of the false wisdom and contrary weight of Undetected Antichristians : which alloy makes up the current coin of opinions in the Visible Church, having such value as we may choose-its nature being properly assayed—to attach to it.” The result of the whole is that “there is, in matters of doctrine, no such thing as the Authority of the Church.”
But in matters of discipline what is the Authority of the Church?
"Much, every way. The sheep have natural and wholesome power (however far scattered they may be from their proper fold) of getting together in orderly knots; following each other in trodden sheepwalks, and holding their heads all one way when they see strange dogs coming; as well as of casting out of their company any whom they see reason to suspect of not being right sheep, and being among them for no good. All which things must be done as the time and place require, and by common consent. A path may be good at one time of day which is bad at another, or after a change
of wind; and a position may be very good for sudden defence, which would be very stiff and awkward for feeding in. And common consent must often be of such and such a company on this or that hill side, in this or that particular danger,—not of all the sheep in the world: and the consent may either be literally common, and expressed in assembly, or it may be to appoint officers over the rest, with such and such trusts of the common authority, to be used for the common advantage. Conviction of crimes, and excommunication, for instance, could neither be effected except before, or by means of, officers of some appointed authority."
5. Who then are the Officers of the Church, the Clerisy, and what is their Authority ?
The Bible Mr. Ruskin finds absolutely silent as to what the offices of the Clergy were in the first century, or as to what they shall be. And God does not prescribe offices, but only supplies the spirit that is to meet the necessities that arise,—and the necessities shape the office.
“Robinson Crusoe, in his island, wants no Bishop, and makes a thunderstorm do for an Evangelist. The University of Oxford would be ill off without its Bishop ; but wants an Evangelist besides; and that forthwith. The authority which the Vaudois shepherds need, is of Barnabas, the son of Consolation ; the authority which the city of London needs is of James the son of Thunder. Let us then alter the form of the question, and put it to the Bible thus : What are the necessities most likely to arise in the Church; and may they be best met by different men, or in great part by the same men acting in different capacities ? And are the names attached to their offices of any consequence? Ah, the Bible answers now, and that loudly. The Church is built on the Foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the Corner Stone. Well; we cannot have two foundations, so we can have no more Apostles nor Prophets :—then, as for the other needs of the Church in its edifying upon this foundation, there are all manner of things to be done daily ;-rebukes to be given ; comfort to be brought; Scripture to be explained; warning to be enforced; threatenings to be executed ; charities to be administered; and the men who do these things are called and call themselves, with absolute indifference, Deacons, Bishops, Elders, Evangelists, according to what they are doing at the time of speaking: But there is one thing which, as officers, or as separate from the rest of the flock, they never call themselves,—which it would have been impossible, as so separate they ever should call themselves; that is,-Priests. It would have been just as possible for the Clergy of the early Church to call themselves Levites, as to call