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Aberglaube Reinvading - Part 4

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Nor did even the Reformation and Protestantism much mend the work of these critics ; the time was not yet ripe for it. Protestantism, nevertheless, was a strenuous and noble effort at improvement ; for it was an effort of return to the ` method' of Jesus,—that leaven which never, since he set it in the world, has ceased or can cease to work. Catholicism, we have said, laid hold on the `secret' of Jesus, and strenuously, however blindly, employed it; this is the grandeur and the glory of Catholicism. In like manner Protestantism laid hold on his ' method,' and strenuously, however blindly, employed it ; and herein is the greatness of Protestantism. The preliminary labour of inwardness and sincerity in the conscience of each individual man, which was the method of Jesus and his indispensable discipline for learning to employ his secret aright, had fallen too much out of view ; obedience had in a manner superseded it. Protestantism drew it into light and prominence again ; was even, one may say, over absorbed by it, so as to leave too much out of view the `secret.' This, if one would be just both to Catholicism and to Protestant-ism, is the thing to bear in mind :—Protestantism had hold of Jesus Christ's `method' of inwardness and sincerity, Catholicism had hold of his ' secret' of self-renouncement. The chief word with Protestantism is the word of the method : repentance, conversion. The chief word with Catholicism is the word of the secret : peace, joy.

And since, though the method and the secret are equally indispensable, the secret may be said to have in it more of practice and conduct, Catholicism may claim perhaps to have more of religion. On the other hand, Protestantism has more light : and, as the method of inwardness and sincerity, once gained, is of general application, and a power for all the purposes of life, Protestantism, we can see, has been accompanied by most prosperity. And here is the answer to Mr. Buckle's famous parallel between Spain and Scotland, that parallel which everyone feels to be a sophism. Scotland has had, to make her different from Spain, the `method' of Jesus ; and though, in theology, Scotland may have turned. it to no great account, she has found her account in it in almost everything else. Catholicism, again, has had, perhaps, most happiness. When one thinks of the bitter and contentious temper of Puritanism,—temper being, nevertheless, such a vast part of conduct,—and then thinks of St. Theresa and her sweetness, her never-sleeping hatred of `detraction,' one is tempted almost to say, that there was more of Jesus in St. Theresa's little finger than in John Knox's whole body. Protestantism has the method of Jesus with his secret too much left out of mind ; Catholicism has his secret with his method too much left out of mind. Neither has his unerring balance, his intuition, his sweet reasonableness. But both have hold of a great truth, and get from it a great power.

And many of the reproaches cast by one on the other are idle. If Catholicism is reproached with being indifferent to much that is called civilisation, it must be answered : So was Jesus. If Protestantism, with its private judgment, is accused of opening a wide field for individual fancies and mistakes, it must be answered : So did Jesus when he introduced his method. Private judgment, `the fundamental and insensate doctrine of Protestantism,' as Joseph de Maistre calls it, is in truth but the necessary `method,' the eternally incumbent duty, imposed by Jesus himself, when he said : ' Judge righteous judgment.' `Judge righteous judgment' is, how-ever, the duty imposed; and the duty is not, whatever many Protestants may seem to think, fulfilled if the judgment be wrong. But the duty of inwardly judging is the very entrance into the way and walk of Jesus.

Luther, then, made an inward verifying movement, the individual conscience, once more the base of operations ; and he was right. But he did so to the following extent only. When he found the priest coming between the individual believer and his conscience, standing to him in the stead of conscience, he pushed the priest aside and brought the believer face to face with his conscience again. This explains, of course, his battle against the sale of indulgences and other abuses of the like kind ; but it ex-plains also his treatment of that cardinal point in the Catholic religious system, the mass. He substituted for it, as the cardinal point in the Protestant system, justification by faith. The miracle of Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice, satisfying God's wrath, and taking off the curse from mankind, is the foundation both of the mass and of the famous Lutheran tenet. But, in the mass, the priest makes the miracle over again and applies its benefits to the believer. In the tenet of justification, the believer is himself in contact with the miracle of Christ's atonement, and applies Christ's merits to himself. The conscience is thus brought into direct communication with Christ's saving act ; but this saving act is still taken,-just as popular religion conceived it, and as formal theology adopted it from popular religion,—as a miracle, the miracle of the Atonement. This popular and imperfect conception of the sense of Christ's death, and in general the whole in-adequate criticism of the Bible involved in the Creeds, underwent at the Reformation no scrutiny and no change.

Luther's actual application, therefore, of the `method' of Jesus to that inner body of dogma, developed as we have seen, which he found regnant, proceeded no farther than this.

And justication by faith, our being saved by 'giving our hearty consent to Christ's atoning work on our behalf,' by `pleading simply the blood of the covenant,' Luther made the essential matter not only of his own religious system but of the entire New Testament. We must be enabled, he said, and we are enabled, to distinguish among the books of the Bible those which are the best ; now, those are the best which show Christ, and teach what would be enough for us to know even if no other parts of the Bible existed. And this evangelical element, as it has been called, this fundamental thought of the Gospel, is, for Luther, our ' being justified by the alone merits of Christ.' This is the doctrine of 'passive or Christian righteousness,' as Luther is fond of naming it, which consists in ` doing nothing, but simply knowing and believing that Christ is gone to the Father and we see him no more ! that he sits in Heaven at the right hand of the Father, not as our judge, but made unto us by God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption ;1 in sum, that he is our high-priest making intercession for us.' Everyone will recognise the consecrated watchwords of Protestant theology.

Such is Luther's criticism of the New Testament, of its fundamental thought. And he picks out, as the kernel and marrow of the New Testament, the Fourth Gospel and the First Epistle by the author of this Gospel, St. Paul's Epistles,—in especial those to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians,—and the First Epistle of St. Peter. Now, the common complaint against Luther is on the score of his audacity in thus venturing to make a table of precedence for the equally inspired books of the New Testament. Yet in this he was quite right, and was but following the method of Jesus, if the good news conveyed in the whole New Testament is, as it is, something definite, and all parts do not convey it equally. Where he was wrong, was in his delineation of this fundamental thought of the New Testament, in his description of the good news ; and few, probably, who nave followed us thus far, will have difficulty in admitting that he was wrong here, and quite wrong. And this has been the fault of Protestantism generally : not its presumption in interpreting Scripture for itself,—for the Church interpreted it no better, and Jesus has thrown on each individual the duty of interpreting it for himself,—but that it has interpreted it wrong, and no better than the Church. `Calvinism has borne ever an inflexible front to illusion and mendacity,' says Mr. Froude. Surely this is but a flourish of rhetoric ! for the Calvinistic doctrine is in itself, like the Lutheran doctrine, and like Catholic dogma, a false criticism of the Bible, an illusion. And the Calvinistic and Lutheran doctrines both of them sin in the same way; not by using a method which, after all, is the method of Jesus, but by not using the method enough, by not applying it to the Bible thoroughly, by keeping too much of what the traditions of men chose to tell them.

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