The Proof From Miracles
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WE have seen that some new treatment or other the religion of the Bible certainly seems to require, for it is attacked on all sides, and the theologians are not so successful as one might wish in defending it. One critic says, that if these islands had no religion at all it would not enter into his mind to introduce the religious and ethical idea by the agency of the Bible. Another, that though certain common-places are common to all systems of morality, yet the Bible-way of enunciating these commonplaces no longer suits us. And we may rest assured, he adds, that by saying what we think in some other, more congenial, language, we shall really be taking the shortest road to discovering the new doctrines which will satisfy at once our reason and our imagination. Another critic goes farther still, and calls Bible-religion not only destitute of a modern and congenial way of stating its commonplaces of morality, but a defacer and disfigurer of moral treasures which were once in better keeping. The more one studies, the more, says he, one is convinced that the religion which calls itself revealed contains, in the way of what is good, nothing which is not the incoherent and ill-digested residue of the wisdom of the ancients. To the same effect the Duke of Somerset,—who has been affording proof to the world that our aristocratic class are not, as has been said, inaccessible to ideas and merely polite, but that they are familiar, on the contrary, with modern criticism of the most advanced kind,—the Duke of Somerset finds very much to condemn in the Bible and its teaching ; although the soul, he says, has (outside the Bible, apparently) one unassailable fortress to which she, may retire,—faith in God.
All this seems to threaten to push Bible-religion from the place it has long held in our affections. And even what the most modern criticism of all sometimes does to save it and to set it up again, can hardly be called very flattering to it. For whereas the Hebrew race imagined that to them were committed the oracles of God, and that their God, ' the Eternal who loveth righteousness,' was the God to whom ` every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear,' 2 there now comes M. Emile Burnouf, the accomplished kinsman of the gifted orientalist Eugène Burnouf, and will prove to us in a thick volume 3 that the oracles of God were not committed to a Semitic race at all, but to the Aryan ; that the true God is not Israel's God at all, but is 'the idea of the absolute' which Israel could never properly master. This `sacred theory of the Aryas,' it seems, passed into Palestine from Persia and India, and got possession of the founder of Christianity and of his greatest apostles St. Paul and St. John ; becoming more perfect, and returning more and more to its true character of a transcendent metaphysic,' as the doctors of the Christian Church developed it. So that we Christians, who are Aryas, may have the satisfaction of thinking that `the religion of Christ has not come to us from the Semites,' and that ' it is in the hymns of the Veda, and not in the Bible, that we are to look for the primordial source of our religion.' The theory of Christ is accordingly the theory of the Vedic Agni, or fire. The Incarnation represents the Vedic solemnity of the production of fire, symbol of force of every kind, of all movement, life, and thought. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit is the Vedic Trinity of Sun, Fire, and Wind ; and God, finally, is ' a cosmic unity.
Such speculations almost take away the breath of a mere man of letters. What one is inclined to say of them is this. Undoubtedly these exploits of the Aryan genius must be gratifying to us members of the Aryan race. The original God of the Hebrews, M. Burnouf says expressly, ' was not a cosmic unity ; ' the religion of the Hebrews ' had not that transcendent metaphysic which the genius of the Aryas re-quires ;' and, `in passing from the Aryan race to the inferior races, religion underwent a deterioration due to the physical and moral constitution of these races.' For religion, it must be remembered, is, in M. Burnout's view, fundamentally a science ; ' a metaphysical conception, a theory, a synthetic explanation of the universe.' Now, ' the perfect Arya is capable of a great deal of science ; the Semite is inferior to him.' As Aryas or Aryans, then, we ought to be pleased at having vindicated the greatness of our race, and having not borrowed a Semitic religion as it stood, but transformed it by importing our own metaphysics into it.
And this seems to harmonise very well with what the Bishops of Winchester and Gloucester say about `doing something for the honour of Our Lord's Godhead,' and about `the infinite separation for time and for eternity which is involved in rejecting the Godhead of the Eternal Son, Very God of Very God, Light of Light ;' and also with the Athanasian Creed generally, and with what the clergy write to the Guardian about ' eternal life being unquestionably annexed to a right knowledge of the Godhead.' For all these have in view high science and metaphysics, worthy of the Aryas. But to Bible-religion, in the plain sense of the word, it is not flattering; for it throws overboard almost entirely the Old Testament, and makes the essence of the New to consist in an esoteric doctrine not very visible there, but more fully developed outside of it. The metaphysical element is made the fundamental element in religion. But, the Bible-books, especially the more ancient of them, are destitute of metaphysics, and consequently of method and classification in their ideas.' Israel, therefore, instead of being a light of the Gentiles and a salvation to the ends of the earth, falls to a place in the world's religious history behind the Arya. He is dismissed as ranking anthropologically between the Aryas and the yellow men; as having frizzled hair, thick lips, small calves, flat feet, and belonging, above all, to those `occipital races' whose brain cannot grow above the age of sixteen ; whereas the brain of a theological Arya, such as one of our bishops, may go on growing all his life.
But we, who think that the Old Testament leads surely up to the New, who believe that, indeed, ' salvation is of the Jews,' and that, for what concerns conduct or righteousness (that is, for what concerns three-fourths of human life), they and their documents can no more be neglected by whoever would make proficiency in it, than Greece can be neglected by anyone who would make proficiency in art, or Newton's discoveries by whoever would comprehend the world's physical laws,—we are naturally not satisfied with this treatment of Israel and the Bible. And admitting that Israel shows no talent for metaphysics, we say that his religious greatness is just this, that he does not found religion on metaphysics, but on moral experience, which is a much simpler matter; and that, ever since the apparition of Israel and the Bible, religion is no longer what, according to M. Burnouf, to our Aryan forefathers in the valley of the Oxus it was,—and what perhaps it really was to them,—metaphysical theory, but is what Israel has made it.
And what Israel made, and how he made it, we seek to show from the Bible itself. Thus we hope to win for the Bible and its religion, which seem to us so indispensable to the world, an access to many of those who now neglect them. For there is this to be said against M. Burnout's metaphysics : no one can allege that the Bible has failed to win access for want of metaphysics being applied to it. Metaphysics are just what all our theology runs up into, and our bishops, as we know, are here particularly strong. But we see everyday that the making religion into meta-physics is the weakening of religion; now, M. Burnouf makes religion into metaphysics more than ever. Yet evidently the metaphysical method lacks power for laying hold on people, and compelling them to receive the Bible from it; it is' felt to be inconclusive as thus employed, and its inconclusiveness tells against the Bible. This is the case with the old metaphysics of our bishops, and it will be the case with M. Burnouts new metaphysics also. They will be found, we fear, to have an inconclusiveness in their re-commendation of Christianity. To very many persons, indeed to the great majority, such a method, in such a matter, must be inconclusive.