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Aberglaube Reinvading - Part 2

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



We may leave all questions about the Church, its rise, and its organisation, out of sight altogether. Much as is made of them, they are comparatively unimportant. Jesus never troubled himself with what are called Church matters at all ; his attention was fixed solely upon the individual. His apostles did what was necessary, as such matters came to require a practical notice and arrangement; but to the apostles, too, they were still quite secondary. The Church grew into something quite different from what they or Jesus had, or could have had, any thought of. But this was of no importance in itself ; and how believers should organise their society as circumstances changed, circumstances them-selves might very well decide.

The one important question was and is, how believers laid and kept hold on the revelations contained in the Bible ; because for the sake of these it confessedly is, that every church exists. Even the apostles, we have seen, did not lay hold on them perfectly. In their attachment to miracles, in the prominence they gave to the crowning miracles of Christ's bodily resurrection and second advent, they went aside from the saving doctrine of Jesus themselves, and were sure,---which was worse,—to make others go aside from it ten thousand times more. But they were too near to Jesus not to have been able to preserve the main lines of his teaching, to preserve his way of using words ; and they did, in fact, preserve them.

But at their death the immediate remembrance of Jesus faded away, and whatever Aberglaube the apostles themselves had had and sanctioned was left to work without check. And, at the same time, the world and society presented conditions constantly less and less favourable to sane criticism. And it was then, and under these conditions, that the dogma which is now called orthodox, and which our dogmatic friends imagine to be purely a methodical arrangement of the admitted facts of Christianity, grew up. We have shown from the thing itself, by putting the dogma in comparison with the-genuine teaching of Jesus, how little it is this; but it is well to make clear to oneself, also (for one can), from the circumstances of the case, that it could not be this.

For dogmatic theology is, in fact, an attempt at both literary and scientific criticism of the highest order ; and the age which developed dogma had neither the resources nor the faculty for such a criticism. It is idle to talk of the theological instinct, the analogy of faith, as if by the mere occupation with a limited subject-matter one could reach the truth about it. It is as if one imagined that by the mere study of Greek we could reach the truth about the origin of Greek words, and dogmatise about them ; and could appeal to our supposed possession, through our labours, of the philological instinct, the analogy of language, to make our dogmatism go down. In general such an instinct, whether theological or philological, will mean merely, that, having accustomed ourselves to look at things through a glass of a certain colour, we see them always of that colour. What the science of Bible-criticism, like all other science, needs, is a very wide experience from comparative observation in many directions, and a very slowly acquired habit of mind. All studies have the benefit of these guides, when they exist, and one isolated study can never have the benefit of them by itself. There is a common order, a general level, a uniform possibility, for these things. As were the geography, history, physiology, cosmology, of the men who developed dogma, so was also their faculty for a scientific Bible-criticism, such as dogma pretends to be. Now we know what their geography, history, physiology, cosmology, were. Cosmas In dicopleustes, a Christian navigator of Justinian's time, denies that the earth is spherical, and asserts it to be a flat surface with the sky put over it like a dish cover. The Christian metaphysics of the same age applying the ideas of substance and identity to what the Bible says about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, are on a par with this natural philosophy,

And again, as one part of their scientific Bible-criticism, so the rest. We have seen in the Bible-writers themselves a quite uncritical use of the Old Testament and of prophecy. Now, does this become less in the authors of our dogmatic theology,—a far more pretentious effort of criticism than the Bible-writers ever made,—or does it ,become greater ? It becomes a thousand times greater. Not only are definite predictions found where they do not exist,—as, for example, in Isaiah's I will restore thy judges as at the first,' is found a definite foretelling of the Apostles,—but in the whole Bible a secret allegorical sense is supposed, higher than the natural sense ; so that Jerome calls tracing the natural sense an eating dust like the serpent, in modum serpentis terram comedere. Therefore, for one expounder, Isaiah's prophecy against Egypt : The Eternal rideth upon a light cloud, and shall come into Egypt, is the flight into Egypt of the Holy Family, and the light cloud is the virgin-born body of Jesus ; for another, The government shall be upon his shoulder, is Christ's carrying upon his shoulder the cross ; for another, The lion shall eat straw like the ox, is the faithful and the wicked alike receiving the body of Christ in the Eucharist.

These are the men, this is the critical faculty, from which our so-called orthodox dogma proceeded. The worth of all the productions of such a critical faculty is easy to estimate, for the worth is nearly uniform. When the Rabbinical expounders interpret : Woe unto them that lay field to field! as a prophetic curse on the accumulation of Church property, or: Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink ! as a prediction of the profligacy of the Church clergy, or : Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity! as God's malediction on Church bells, we say at once that such critics thus give their measure as interpreters of the true sense of the Bible. The moment we think seriously and fairly, we must see that the Patristic interpretations of prophecy give, in like manner, their authors' measure as interpreters of the true sense of the Bible. Yet this is what the dogma of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds professes to be, and must be if it is to be worth anything,—the true sense extracted from the Bible ; for, 'the Bible is the record of the whole revealed faith,' says Cardinal Newman. But we see how impossible it is that this true sense the dogma of these creeds should be.

Therefore it is, that it is useful to give signal instances of the futility of patristic and medieval criticism ; not to raise an idle laugh, but because our whole dogmatic theology has a patristic and medieval source, and from the nullity of the deliverances of this criticism, where it can be brought manifestly to book, may be inferred the nullity of its deliverances, where, from the impalpable and incognisable character of the subjects treated, to bring it manifestly to book is impossible. In the account of the Creation, in the first chapter of Genesis, 'the greater light to rule the day, is the priesthood ; ' the lesser light to rule the night,' 1 borrowing its beams from the greater, is the Holy Roman Empire. When the disciples of Jesus produced two swords and Jesus said : ' It is enough,' he meant, we are told, the temporal and the spiritual power, and that both were necessary and both at the disposal of the Church ; but by saying afterwards to Peter, after he had cut off the ear of Malchus : 'Put up thy sword into the sheath,' he meant that the Church was not to wield the temporal power itself, but to employ the secular government to wield it. Now, this is the very same force of criticism which in the Athanasian Creed `arranged, sentence after sentence,' that doctrine of the Godhead of the Eternal Son for which the Bishops of Winchester and Gloucester are so anxious to `do something.'

The Schoolmen themselves are but the same false criticism developed, and clad in an apparatus of logic and system. In that grand and instructive repertory founded by the Benedictines, the Histoire Littéraire de la France, we read that in the theological faculty of the University of Paris, the leading medieval university, it was seriously discussed whether Jesus at his ascension had his clothes on or not. If he had not, did he appear before his apostles naked? if he had, what became of the clothes ? Monstrous ! everyone will say.' Yes, but the very same criticism, only full-blown, which produced : `Neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.' The very same criticism, which originally treated terms as scientific which were not scientific ; which, instead of applying literary and historical criticism to the data of popular Aberglaube, took these data just as they stood and merely dressed them scientifically.

Catholic dogma itself is true, urges, however, Cardinal Newman, because intelligent Catholics have dropped errors and absurdities like the False Decretals or the works of the pretended Dionysius the Areopagite, but have not dropped dogma. This is only saying that men drop the more palpable blunder before the less palpable. The adequate criticism of the Bible is extremely difficult, and slowly does the `Zeit-Geist' unveil it. Meanwhile, of the premature and false criticism to which we are accustomed, we drop the evidently weak parts first ; we retain the rest, to drop it gradually and piece by piece as it loosens and breaks up.

But it is all of one order, and in time it will all go. Not the Athanasian Creed's damnatory clauses only, but the whole Creed ; not this one Creed only, but the three Creeds,--our whole received application of science, popular or learned, to the Bible. For it was an inadequate and false science, and could not, from the nature of the case, be otherwise.





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