Aberglaube Reinvading - Part 3
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
And now we see how much that clergyman deceives himself, who writes to the Guardian : `The objectors to the Athanasian Creed at any rate admit, that its doctrinal portions are truly the carefully distilled essence of the scattered intimations of Holy Scripture on the deep mysteries in question,—priceless discoveries made in that field.' When one has travelled to the Athanasian Creed along the gradual line of the historical development of Christianity, instead of living stationary all one's life with this Creed blocking up the view, one is really tempted to say, when one reads a deliverance like that of this clergyman : Sancta simplicitas! It is just because the Athanasian Creed pre-tends to be, in its doctrine, `the carefully distilled essence of the scattered intimations of Holy Scripture,' and is so very far from it, that it is worthless. It is ' the carefully distilled essence of the scattered intimations of Holy Scripture' just as that allegory of the two swords was. It is really a mixture, —for true criticism, as it ripens, it is even a grotesque mixture, —of learned pseudo-science with popular Aberglaube.
But it cannot be too carefully borne in mind that the real 'essence of Holy Scripture,' its saving truth, is no such criticism at all as the so-called orthodox dogma attempts and attempts unsuccessfully. No, the real essence of Scripture is a much simpler matter. It is, for the Old Testament : To him that ordereth his conversation right shall be shown the salvation of God!—and, for the New Testament : Follow Jesus! This is Bible-dogma, as opposed to the dogma of our formularies. On this Bible-dogma if Churches were founded, and to preach this Bible-dogma if ministers were ordained, Churches and ministers would have all the dogma to which the Bible attaches eternal life. Plain and precise enough it is, in all conscience ; with the advantage of being precisely right, whereas the dogma of our formularies is precisely wrong. And if anyone finds it too simple, let him remember that its hardness is practical, not speculative. It is a rule of conduct; let him act it, and he will find it hard enough. Utinam per unum diem bene essemus conversati in hoc mundo ! But as a matter of mere knowledge it is very simple, it lies on the surface of the Bible and cannot be missed.
And the holders of ecclesiastical dogma have always, we must repeat and remember, held and professed this Bible-dogma too. Their ecclesiastical dogma may have prevented their attending closely enough to the Bible-dogma, may have led them often to act false to it; but they have always held it. The method and the secret of Jesus have been always prized. The Catholic Church from the first held aloft the secret of Jesus; the monastic orders were founded, we may say, in homage to it. And from time to time, through the course of ages, there have arisen men who threw themselves on the method and secret of Jesus with extraordinary force, with intuitive sense that here was salvation ; and who really cared for nothing else, though ecclesiastical dogma, too, they professed to believe, and sincerely thought they did believe, but their heart was elsewhere. These are they who `received the kingdom of God as a little child,' who perceived how simple a thing Christianity was, though so inexhaustible, and who are therefore `the greatest in the kingdom of God.' And they, not the theological doctors, are the true lights of the Christian Church ; not Augustine, Luther, Bossuet, Butler, but the nameless author of the Imitation, but Tauler, but St. Francis of Sales, Wilson of Sodor and Man. Yet not only these men, but the whole body of Christian churches and sects always, have all at least professed the method and secret of Jesus, and to some extent used them. And whenever these were used, they have borne their natural fruits of joy and life; and this joy and this life have been taken to flow from the ecclesiastical dogma held along with them, and to sanction and prove it. And people, eager to praise the bridge which carried them over from death to life, have taken this dogma for the bridge, or part of the bridge, that carried them over, and have eagerly praised it. Thus religion has been made to stand on its apex instead of its base. Righteousness is supported on ecclesiastical dogma, instead of ecclesiastical dogma being supported on righteousness.
But in the beginning it was not so. Because righteousness is eternal, necessary, life-giving, therefore the mighty 'not ourselves which makes for righteousness' was the Eternal, Israel's God ; was all-powerful, all-merciful ; sends his Messiah, elects his people, establishes his kingdom, receives into everlasting habitations. But gradually this petrifies, gradually it is more and more added to ; until at last, because righteousness was originally perceived to be eternal, necessary, life-giving, we find ourselves 'worshipping One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.' And then the original order is reversed. Because there is One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, who receives into everlasting habitations, establishes his kingdom, elects his people, sends his Messiah, is all-merciful, all-powerful, Israel's God, the Eternal,—therefore righteousness is eternal, necessary, life-giving. And shake the belief in the One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, the belief in righteousness is shaken, it is thought, also. Whereas righteousness and the God of righteousness, the God of the Bible, are in truth quite independent of the God of ecclesiastical dogma, the work of critics of the Bible,—critics understanding neither what they say nor whereof they affirm.