Abbildungen der Seite

sciously or not, from the misstatements, inventions, and unwarranted traditions concerning him and his doctrine which have been current in the world almost ever since his death. But it may well be questioned whether a person in the attitude of mind resulting from long training in the confusions and follies of ecclesiastical dogma concerning Christ is competent to undertake and conduct to good result an inquiry as to his real character, intentions, and circumstances. The judgment of such a person is almost inevitably imperfect. He cannot divest himself of the influence of former error. The most candid disposition to discover and to state the truth will only partially avail him in resistance to the unconscious warpings of ingrained prepossessions. The simplicity of the truth will seem to one bred in the abundance and mystery of traditions and dogmas an objection to the truth itself. Its very plainness will in his eyes cast a doubt upon its meaning. It will appear to him impossible that the life, character, and teachings of Christ, which he has learned to regard so differently, should be so simple as they are. He will be confused in the entanglements of falsehood and error. He will be likely to substitute for the laboriously elaborated theories to which he has been accustomed, but which he has come to reject, new fallacious hypotheses, the offspring of his own fancy and of the prevailing intellectual disposition of his time. The tendency of superstition is constantly to reproduce itself under new forms. The eye accustomed to the dimness of twilight finds the pure brightness of day for a season unattractive.

The author of " Ecce Homo,” in his endeavor to make the historic character of Christ comprehensible, has added only one more work of fancy to the many that have preceded it. Much of his volume, and the ablest part of it, is occupied by an exposition of the moral teachings of Christ. In this discussion there are many just, and a few original and striking reflections. But the style is diffuse, and the fluency of diction often conceals and aggravates a deficiency and obscurity of thought. Clear matters are clouded by an assumption of philosophical profundity, and familiar truths are disguised by a loose and inexact use of modern phraseology. But that portion of the book which is an attempt to present a view of the personal character of Christ is open to far graver criticism than this. It is here that the peculiar mental incapacity, originating in established habits of thought and modes of belief, is most apparent.

The credit which the author deserves for the independence and freshness of his speech is greatly diminished by the fact that he has not given to his subject either the exact consideration or the thorough investigation which it especially requires. In his survey he has omitted much that is essential alike to accuracy and to comprehensiveness of


view. It is easy to be independent, if one neglects to consider the force of other conclusions than one's own; and it is not difficult to be original, if one bases his argument upon assertions instead of reasons.

The main defect of this book as a study of the life of Christ arises from a vice very common among writers upon theological topics, - confusion in the understanding and use of direct and metaphorical language. The whole history of Christian doctrine, or what has been held under that name, affords continual illustration of the evil springing from this source. The metaphorical language with which the Gospels abound, the almost constant use of metaphor by Christ, both in speaking of himself and in the statement of bis doctrine, have perhaps been the most fertile source of error concerning him and his religion. They have led to opinions the most contrary to truth. It may be said, without exaggeration, that most of the creeds which have enchained men's souls, and deprived them, in the name of Christianity, of the liberty of Christ, have sprung from a misunderstanding and abuse of metaphorical language. The author of " Ecce Homo” shows in large measure the intellectual effect produced by the long-established habit of thus misemploying and misunderstanding figures of speech. His volume is in great part an exposition of results drawn from the literal interpretation of figurative language. And from this cause it wholly fails to present a consistent picture of Christ as an historical character. The image it produces is vague, unreal, essentially incredible, and unhistorical.

To exhibit the grounds of this criticism in detail would require us to traverse the whole field occupied by the work. But a sufficient illus. tration of the author's method and results may be afforded by a single notable example. Even this, however, we must present with a brevity disproportioned to the space which the topic occupies in the book itself.

31 the statement is made that Christ “conceived the theocracy restored as it had been in the time of David, with a visible monarch at its head, and that monarch himself”; and upon this assertion rests a great portion of the author's theory concerning Christ and his doctrine. Although these words, taken in their obvious meaning, seem to contradict some of the plainest of the words of Christ concerning himself, — as, for instance, his explicit declaration that his kingdom was not of this world, — they are modified by other assertions of the author, without however having their meaning brought into much nearer conformity with the truth. Thus the chapter on “ Christ's Royalty" closes with the sentence: “We conclude, then, that Christ in describing himself as a king, and at the same time as king of the kingdom of God, -- in other words, as a king representing the majesty

On page


of the invisible king of a theocracy, — claimed the character first of Founder, next of Legislator, thirdly, in a certain high and peculiar sense, of Judge of a new divine society." Now, although these words are susceptible of an interpretation perhaps conformable to the claims which Christ asserted, it is plain from other portions of the book that the author really considers the metaphor of Christ's royalty as a literal fact. This leads him to expressions concerning Christ which are discordant, not only with the words, but with the spirit of the Saviour. He speaks of him, for instance, as making “ unbounded personal pretensions” (p. 32). And in a very remarkable passage he says, “Let us pause once more to consider that which remains throughout a subject of ever-recurring astonishment, the unbounded personal pretensions which Christ advances"; and he goes on to say, “ 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.” That these expressions of the highest faith in the divine origin and vital power of the truths which he was setting forth to men in his words and in his life should be spoken of as exhibitions of "the unbounded personal pretensions of Christ," betrays at once an incapacity properly to interpret language, and an almost equal incapacity properly to use it. It is difficult to imagine any just application of such words as “ unbounded personal pretensions” to Christ. He spoke of himself as the Light of the world ; but he said: “I do nothing of myself, but as my Father hath taught me I speak these things.” “If I honor myself, my honor is nothing." “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me.” He said, “I am the bread of life"; and added, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me.” He repeated, “I can of mine own self do nothing.”

The tendency to regard metaphorical language as literal statement is accompanied in the author of “ Ecce Homo by a tendency to turn plain into figurative language. He speaks of the kernel of the Christian moral scheme,” the “end which Christ proposed to himself,” as bcing what he calls “ the enthusiasm of humanity.” In plain words, this is what Christ called love ; the love of man as man raised to an enthusiasm. It is perhaps owing to the fact that the author excludes or intends to exclude from this volume “ Christ as the creator of modern theology and religion,” that is, all consideration of Christianity in its teaching concerning God, that he makes this " enthusiasm of humanity" occupy a place in his scheme quite disproportionate to what anything corresponding to this vague neologism occupied in Christ's teaching. He says, for instance, “ The Christian law is the spirit of Christ, VOL. CIII. — NO. 212.


that enthusiasm of humanity which he declared to be the source from which all right action flows. What it dictates, and that alone, is law for the Christian.” (p. 218.) We are at a loss to know where this declaration of Christ is to be found; and the view of the author appears still more extraordinary, when we find him asserting as “a fundamental principle,” “that Christianity is natural fellow-feeling, or humanity raised to the point of enthusiasm.” This is a definition of Christianity unlikely to satisfy Christians, and incapable of conveying any distinct meaning whatsoever. The shallowness of thought and the looseness of assertion manifest in such phrases as these pervade the whole treatment of this subject. Thus, on page 275, the author declares, with what seems like the utterance of delirium, that “ 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." And in a similar vein of extravagance, affording at the same time a very striking instance of the author's confusion in interpreting metaphorical language, is the passage in which he cites the words, “ Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, ye have no life in you,” proceeding to explain them as follows: “ What Christ meant by life is not now difficult to discover. It is that healthy condition of mind which issues of necessity in right action. The health of the soul we know Christ regarded as consisting in a certain enthusiasm of love for human beings as such.”

It was no doubt, in one sense, a healthy condition of mind which Christ required of the lawyer who asked what he should do to inherit eternal life; but the health of the soul is something more than “a certain enthusiasm of love for human beings as such.” When Christ asked the lawyer, “ What is written in the Law?” his answer was, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” And Christ then said to him, “ Thou hast answered right: this do and thou shalt live.” The enthusiasm of humanity is hardly a suficiently ample phrase to embrace the first of the two commandments on which hang all the Law and the Prophets.

For a book not intentionally written in an irreverent spirit, this volume is unusually open to the charge of handling the most serious and sacred things in so careless a manner as to produce the effect of irreverence, and violate every canon of good taste. These broad, unsupported assertions of what Christ meant and said might be well enough if the author professed to be inventing a fictitious Christ, but are gravely objectionable in a work professing an historical purpose and method ; but even these are less offensive than certain passages where the author's fancy has led him into a license of expression such as a refined scoffer at religion would hardly imitate. Such, for example, is the passage in which the Lord's Supper is compared to a club dinner, and it is said (we cite the words as an illustration that throws much light on the character of the author's mind) that “ God and Christ are members of the club.” There is no palliation for this offence against good taste.

Such a book as “ Ecce Homo " can have no marked and permanent influence on thought. Its value as a protest against ecclesiastioal tradition will not preserve it. It is but one piece of evidence among many of a growing independence of religious thought. When thought becomes really free, and when the tyranny of creeds and superstitions is more completely broken, the main difficulties in comprehending the motives, objects, and feelings of Christ as an historical character will disappear, and such books will no longer be written or excite attention.



10.— The History of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, from the

Settlement of the Colony to the Death of Bishop Seabury. By E. EDWARDS BEARDSLEY, D. D., Rector of St. Thomas's Church, New Haven. New York: Hurd and Houghton. 1866. 8vo. Pp. xxix., 470.

This volume is the fruit of careful studies and laborious research. It is written in a candid spirit, and the reader will not hesitate to aocept the author's assertion, that, “ while I confess a strong attachment to the Episcopal Church, I am not conscious of any undue partiality in my statements.” The book is a valuable contribution to local and ecclesiastical history. The most interesting and instructive portion of it to the general reader is the part which treats of the relations of the Episcopal clergy and the leading members of the Church to the events which preceded and brought on the Revolution, their feelings in regard to the popular cause, and their course during the Revolution itself. It was fortunate for America that the Episcopal Church was not at that period possessed of any considerable strength in the Northern Colonies, and had not struck its roots deeply into the American soil. (the members of the Episcopal Church,) says Dr. Beardsley, "desired the suppression of the rebellion, and the establishment of the King's authority in the land, it was because they felt that Churchmen, as the weaker party, could only in this way hope for encouragement and permanent security. They generally conceived the measures of the Colonies to be unwise, if not unjust, and destined to end either in defeat or ruin on the one hand, or the overthrow of the Church on the other."

“ If they,"

« ZurückWeiter »