The foregoing address was published in the International Journal of Ethics for April, 1896. In January, 1897, a reply from the Rev. H. Rashdall, of Hertford College, Oxford, combating at some length the view taken in my address as to the moral position of the Anglican clergy, appeared in the same journal. Mr. Rashdall's paper is ably and earnestly written, and I have endeavoured to give full weight to the considerations urged by him. But the main conclusions expressed in my address remain unchanged; and as the question seems to me one of profound social importance, I propose in this essay to return to it and give such further explanations and further arguments as Mr. Rashdall's paper suggests. I do not, however, find it convenient to throw my statement into the form of a simple rejoinder to Mr. Rashdall, because he has, to an important extent, misunderstood my position; and the detailed discussion of such misunderstandings is almost always wearisome and unprofitable to the reader. The misunderstanding is partly due to the comparative brevity with which I treated the subject---Mr. Rashdall's thirty pages being in fact directed against the last page and a half of my address; and perhaps I ought to offer some explanation of this brevity. The truth is that though Mr. Rashdall regards my position as extreme on the side of strictness, ``almost what might have been expected from a Kantian rigorist'', this was not at all my own view of it. I do not merely mean that I aimed at keeping a judicious middle course, avoiding with equal care right-hand rigour and left-hand laxity; for that, I suppose, is the aim of every one who forms a disinterested conclusion on a controverted matter. The point is rather that, while composing my address, my ``judicious mean'' seemed to myself much more assailable in respect of laxity than in respect of rigour. Before writing it, I had tried to study impartially the Baptismal Service and the Confirmation Service of the Church of England; and had been strongly impressed with the definiteness and force with which the doctrinal basis of membership is there put forward. A member of the Church has been ``baptized in the faith'' defined by the Apostles' Creed; at confirmation he has solemnly ``acknowledged'' himself ``bound to believe'' it. I had, therefore, some hesitation in arguing, on the ground of anything so vague as a tacit common understanding, that a layman who definitely rejects any precise and important statement made in this creed may still legitimately claim the privileges of membership. I felt that if this claim were denied by any one of the many orthodox persons who regard the Apostles' Creed as the indispensable minimum of Christian doctrine, I should have considerable difficulty in defending the position that I had still, on the whole, determined to maintain. On the other hand, the proposition that an ordained minister of the Church, who is required by his office to declare solemnly every Sunday his belief in the Apostles' Creed, is chargeable with unveracity if this declaration is palpably false---this proposition seemed to me hardly controvertible. I was, indeed, aware that a portion of the Anglican clergy were in the habit of thus affirming falsely their belief in the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ; because Mr. Haweis, in an interesting article in the Contemporary Review (September, 1895) had stated this as a fact within his knowledge. ``We have in our midst,'' said Mr. Haweis, ``clergy within the Church holding two views of the incarnation. There are what I may call the prenatal infusion clergy and the postnatal transfusion clergy. The Postnatalists admit human parentage on both sides.'' I had no doubt that these Postnatalists were for the most part making their weekly false statements with the best intentions; but it never occurred to me that they would claim to be acquitted of unveracity in so doing. I rather supposed them to hold that any harm that might be done to religion and morality by this falsity was outweighed by the loss that the Church would suffer if men of enlightenment, open to modern ideas and fearlessly accepting the methods of modern criticism, were excluded from its pulpits. This was a plea that I was prepared to discuss more fully if necessary; but on the point of veracity I thought I might be brief.
It is partly owing to this brevity that Mr. Rashdall has occupied a considerable part of his article with arguments really irrelevant to my position. Thus he argues at length against the view that a clergyman is bound to believe in miracles as such, and in all the miracles recorded in the New Testament. But I did not intend to suggest this; my contention was merely that veracity requires him to believe the marvels affirmed in the creeds. He is quite at liberty---so far as my argument is concerned---to hold that these marvels were ``not breaches of natural law''.
I cannot, however, admit that Mr. Rashdall's misunderstandings are entirely due to my brevity. For instance, he understands me to suggest that a clergyman is bound to believe ``in the most literal interpretation of everything contained in the creeds.'' [The italics are mine.] But in the paragraph against which he was arguing I had expressly said ``I should desire and think right that in determining the scope of the obligation imposed by the creeds, the utmost breadth of interpretation should be granted, the utmost variety of meanings allowed, which the usage of language, especially the vagueness of many fundamental notions, will fairly admit.'' My contention is simply that the widest licence of variation that can be reasonably claimed must stop short of the permission to utter a hard, flat, unmistakable falsehood; and this is what a clergyman does who says solemnly---in the recital of the Apostles' Creed---``I believe in Jesus Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary'', when he really believes that Jesus was, like other human beings, the son of two human parents. He utters, of course, a similar falsehood in affirming the belief that Jesus ``on the third day rose again from the dead'', when he does not believe that Jesus had a continued life as an individual after death, and a life in some sense corporeal. But since the conception of the resurrection body---which, in a theology based on the canonical scriptures, is naturally formed by comparing the language of St. Paul (I Cor. xv.) with the language of the third and fourth evangelists---is somewhat ambiguous and obscure, I propose in this discussion to concentrate attention mainly on the first-mentioned statement, which presents a perfectly simple and definite issue.
This issue is frankly accepted by Mr. Rashdall. He definitely holds that a man may reject the miraculous birth and yet solemnly recite in church the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, without doing anything ``really inconsistent with the duties of veracity and good faith'', according to the ``principles which are generally recognized''.
His reasoning is as follows:
1. ``The clergy do not profess their beliefs in the Creeds in any other sense and to any other degree than they assent to the whole of the Prayer Book and Articles.''
2. There are few clergymen who literally believe all the Thirty-nine Articles; and even in the Apostles' and the Nicene Creed there are clauses which ``most orthodox clergymen would explain in a way different from that which was intended by their authors''---e.g., those relating to the descent into hell, and the Resurrection of the Body.
3. We have to recognize, accordingly, a ``general agreement that subscription does not imply a literal acceptance of the formulae''.
4. The liberty thus gained might with advantage be increased; and, with a view to this increase, ``the principle of liberalizing interpretation may be carried a little further than can be justified by strict insistence upon'' the rule that ``words must be taken to mean what they are generally understood to mean''. By so doing a clergyman will ``contribute to a further step in that process of religious development which has proved so beneficial in times past''.
5. This principle justifies a clergyman in affirming his belief that Christ was born of a virgin, when he really believes that He had two human parents, provided he thinks the matter ``of no spiritual significance''.
6. No doubt such a man ought, before taking orders, to satisfy himself that this ``disbelief is of the same order as those which public opinion has already recognized as falling within the permissible limits ''; and Mr. Rashdall appears to concede that he may have some little difficulty in satisfying himself of this: but he thinks that he is ``justified in throwing the responsibility'' on the bishop to whom he applies for ordination. If the bishop consents to ordain him, as an avowed unbeliever in the miraculous birth, he may feel assured that his disbelief ``does not exceed the limits of the liberty which the Church by its practical conduct has proclaimed''. Nor need he---if I understand Mr. Rashdall---communicate to the world or to his congregation his unbelief in the miraculous birth. It is sufficient if he informs his bishop and the incumbent who gives him his title, and lets his congregation know ``by the general tenor of his teaching'' in what sense he interprets his acceptance of the formularies.
7. For confirmation of his general view of the liberty allowed to the clergy, Mr. Rashdall appeals to ``the Courts, the authorized interpreters of the obligations imposed by law upon the clergy''. He finds that the ``decisions of the judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of the various writers in Essays and Reviews go far to constitute, within the limits contended for in this article, a charter of theological freedom for the clergy of the Church of England''.
This is, I think, a faithful summary of the reasoning by which Mr. Rashdall tries to prove that the conduct he recommends is ``not really inconsistent with the duties of veracity and good faith''. I cannot say that he has convinced me on either point; but after considering the lines of his argument, I think it better to separate the duties of veracity and good faith, and, for clearness of issue, to concentrate attention here mainly on the former. The pledges given by a priest at his ordination are no doubt given immediately to the bishop; and it is at least a tenable view that the bishop is an authorized interpreter of the ordination vows ``so to minister the doctrine as this Church hath received the same'', and ``with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away all strange doctrines contrary to God's Word''. Hence the question, whether in the exercise of this interpretative authority he may properly dispense an enlightened candidate from the duty of believing and teaching such portions, of the Apostles' Creed as conflict with modern historical criticism, may perhaps be regarded as a question of ecclesiastical order with which an outsider should not presume to deal. I should myself have thought that this episcopal dispensing power was rather a mediæval than a modern idea; but I do not claim to be an expert on such points. I will only say that if this dispensing power be once admitted, I do not see how it is possible to limit it to the particular modern ideas that Mr. Rashdall wishes to admit. Suppose, for instance, that a disciple of Matthew Arnold, glowing with ardour to exhibit the ``true greatness of Christianity'', purified from the ``popular Aberglaube'' of the Apostles' Creed and the ``false science'' of the Nicene Creed, presents himself for ordination before a bishop who---like the present Dean of Ripon---is more or less in sympathy with Literature and Dogma. Is it not probable that the enlightened prelate would stretch his dispensing power to admit the enlightened candidate? and could a colleague who had himself consented to ordain a Postnatalist reasonably censure the transaction? I can hardly think that the Church of England will ever willingly entrust such a power to any single bishop.
But in any case we shall agree that this episcopal dispensing power cannot extend to the general duty of veracity: the bishop cannot license a deacon or priest to speak falsely to his congregation. And here I must express my astonishment at Mr. Rashdall's assertion that the clergy do not profess their belief in the Creeds in any other sense or degree than they assent to the whole of the Prayer Book and the Thirty-nine Articles. For he himself points out that the assent required to the Prayer Book and Articles is only a ``general declaration of assent, deliberately substituted by Parliament and both convocations in 1865 for certain very much stronger and more explicit declarations; so that in distinguishing between a general belief in the Articles and Prayer Book, and an explicit belief that everything in the Articles and Prayer Book is true, no one can be accused of pressing an accidental selection of phrases''. But an ``explicit belief that everything'' in the Apostles' Creed ``is true'' is just what everyone who performs clerical functions has to declare; moreover, he has ordinarily to declare it every Sunday, whereas his general assent to the Articles is only required when he is ordained or licensed to a curacy, or instituted to a benefice. Mr. Rashdall's arguments to show that hardly any clergyman really believes everything in the Thirty-nine Articles would only be to the point if every clergyman were required periodically to repeat all the Articles, prefacing each with the words ``I believe'': under the conditions which have now existed for a generation such arguments are, by his own showing, irrelevant to the present issue.
At the same time the considerations which Mr. Rashdall urges against a pedantic insistence on what he calls ``technical veracity'', in dealing with formulae prescribed for assent or repetition, seem to me to a great extent sound. My complaint is that, instead of stating and applying these considerations with the care and delicacy of distinction required for helpfulness, so as to show how the essence of veracity may be realized under peculiar and somewhat perplexing conditions, he rather uses them to suggest the depressing and demoralizing conclusion that no clergyman can possibly speak the truth in the sense in which a plain layman understands truth-speaking; so that any clergyman may lie without scruple in the cause of religious progress, with a view to aiding popular education in the new theology, and still feel that he is as veracious as his profession allows him to be. Or perhaps I should rather say that Mr. Rashdall's conception of substantial veracity is what grammarians call proleptic; the duty of truth-speaking is, he thinks, adequately performed by a Postnatalist, if he may reasonably hope that the falsehood he now utters will before long cease to deceive through the spread of a common understanding that he does not mean what he says. In this way what is sound Mr. Rashdall's arguments comes to be inextricably mixed up with what I regard as dangerously misleading. It appears to me therefore desirable that I should state and illustrate in my own way the general view of the moral obligation of veracity in which we on the whole agree, and then try to show that, properly understood, this does not support his particular conclusions as to clerical duty.
Two considerations appear to me to modify the duty of truth-speaking in such a case as that before us.
(I) Ordinarily a man may choose his own words to express his belief, and therefore has no excuse for deliberately choosing ambiguous words; he ought, generally speaking, to choose words which appear to him freest from ambiguity. But where the words are prescribed for him this choice is precluded; and in such a case, I conceive, he should be held to speak truthfully, if he employs the terms in any sense which they will fairly admit, according to the common usage of language. I think that this is the rule which a conscientious man practically applies in any of the cases---not rare in modern political life---in which he is asked to sign a document which he has had no share in drawing up. If it contains any statement as to a matter of fact which he regards as clearly false, he will refuse to sign the document, however much he may sympathize with its object; but he will sign it---in a good cause---although the document may contain some phrases which he can only accept by taking them in a sense different from that which the majority attach to them, and perhaps different from that intended by the framers of the document, provided the vague and varying usage of common speech may be fairly held to include the different meanings. It is the common usage and understanding which fixes the limits of variation in such cases, not simply the opinions and, sentiments of the framers of the document.
(2) This leads us to the second consideration. The common understanding may change gradually, so that certain phrases in certain relations may come to be understood in a sense quite different from that which they originally bore, or which the words would convey if used in other connexions. The stock instance of this is the language of compliment or politeness: thus the phrase ``Dear Sir'' in commencing a letter is understood to express not affection, but a certain minimum of social respect; similarly the words ``Right Reverend'' might be applied without deception to a bishop by a Nonconformist, who both hated prelacy and despised the particular bishop to whom he was writing. In some cases the new meaning thus given to a phrase by current usage is designed to be ambiguous, because ambiguity is required by social convenience. Thus the phrase ``not at home'' is now understood to mean ``either out or unwilling to receive visitors'':---a phrase with this ambiguous meaning being convenient, because the uncertainty between the two alternatives tends to prevent social friction.
This last example has a peculiarity which deserves special attention from our present point of view. The meaning now attached to the phrase ``not at home'' is the result of a gradual process of change during which the phrase has been, in a continually decreasing degree, deceptive. Now the original deceptive use is obviously condemned by the general rule of truth-speaking, and few thoughtful persons would deny that it was morally objectionable: it was a falsehood not justified by the social convenience which prompted it. The question then arises whether this deception in the process of change---granting it wrong---renders it wrong to avail ourselves of the results of the process? I agree with Mr. Rashdall in thinking that this question must be answered in the negative. In the political and social life of man good continually comes out of evil, and bad actions have, as a part of their consequences, beneficent results,---as when a prosperous and well-ordered state has been founded by unscrupulous aggression and conquest. In all such cases we may, I conceive, use the results freely without approving the process.
A more subtle question, somewhat less easy to answer, arises in respect of the later stages of the process to which I have referred. The new meaning may be understood by a large number of the persons to whom the phrase is addressed, but not by all; there may still be a certain amount of deception caused by its use, and some of those who use it may be conscious of deceiving. Is it at this stage legitimate to use it? and, if so, at what point of the gradual process has it become legitimate? The general answer is, that it becomes legitimate when the evil of social annoyance which the phrase would prevent becomes less than the evil of deception; but in the case supposed the line cannot be drawn exactly, and the practical decision must be left entirely to the varying judgment of individuals. We shall find, however, that the corresponding problem is to some extent easier to solve in dealing with the more important matters with which this essay is concerned---to which I now return.
There can be little doubt that old prescribed expressions of religious belief do tend to have their meaning changed by changes in prevalent theological opinion; and in some cases the early stages of the process may have involved conscious deception,---of which, according to the rule just laid down, we shall disapprove, while at the same time allowing as legitimate the employment of the phrase in the new meaning, when the change in common understanding has been brought about. But it is by no means necessary that any conscious deception should take place, as the change of meaning may be so gradual that neither speaker nor hearer is at any time aware that he is using words in a non-natural sense. There seem to be two chief forms of this process: (1) Words originally used literally come to be used metaphorically, and (2) words originally intended to be understood without qualification come to be used with tacit qualifications and reserves, which materially modify their meaning.
Both these kinds of changes have certainly taken place in respect of the common understanding of the formulae of the Church of England; and I should regard them both as legitimate, so long as the new meaning is one which the phrases in question will admit without any violent straining.
Let me give one or two examples. The Apostles' Creed makes the following assertions with regard to Jesus Christ:
``On the third day He rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.''
It seems clear that the original meaning of these phrases is that unmistakably expressed in the Fourth Article: ``Christ took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man's nature; wherewith He ascended into heaven and there sitteth, until He returns to judge all men at the last day.''
That is, the older belief clearly was that Jesus not only went from the earth upwards with ``flesh, bones, etc.'', but that He is now existing with these elements of bodily life in a certain portion of space called heaven. And the same view is no less definitely expressed in the declaration appended (for quite another purpose) to the Communion Service: ``the natural body and blood of our Saviour Christ are in heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural body to be at one time in more places than one''.
Now I think that this belief hardly survives at all in the minds of educated persons at the present time. At any rate among the educated laity I doubt if even the most orthodox---however firmly they believe that in the actual existence of Jesus Christ the spiritual union of human and divine natures is perpetually maintained---are now accustomed to imagine him as actually occupying a certain portion of space with a bodily organism, containing flesh, bones, and blood. The conception of physical facts and possibilities which modern science has established among us has unconsciously rendered any such imagination quite alien to us. Accordingly I believe that the weekly repetition of the Creed in most cases no longer suggests this idea either to the clergy or to the educated laity who repeat it. The meaning has changed for them gradually, without a shade of conscious unveracity at any stage of the process. But that is because the words of the Creed present no definite barrier to the change: had the words of the Article been used, the case would have been quite different. As it is, a phrase, which was always in part a metaphor, has come to be understood as completely metaphorical or symbolical, by a perfectly smooth transition of thought.
A similar but slighter change has taken place in the common understanding of the phrase ``descended into hell'', which has lost the idea of downward movement---and even, perhaps, of spatial movement altogether---and come to mean simply ``passed to the abode of departed spirits''. The figure of local motion downward has been accepted without difficulty, from old habit and association---perhaps aided by some vague connexion between the known position of the buried bodies of the dead relatively to the living and the imagined position of their souls.
I pass to another instance, where an important affirmation has undergone a distinct change of meaning, from the introduction of a qualification not originally intended.
A candidate for ordination as deacon is solemnly asked by the bishop, ``Do you unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament?'' There seems to be no doubt that this was originally intended to import a belief in the truth of every statement in the Bible, the whole aggregate of books included in the Old and New Testament being regarded as literally the ``Word of God''. But as the development of historical method and scientific knowledge rendered it more and more difficult for educated persons to hold this belief, the phrase gradually came to be understood with a tacit limitation expressible by some such words as ``so far as they convey religious teaching''. It is possible that this change originally involved some degree of deception,---the bishops, and the common understanding of the Church taking the words in one sense, and a few exceptionally enlightened candidates taking them in the more limited sense, conscious that it would have been repudiated by the bishops and the Church generally. But it seems equally probable that the new meaning came in gradually without any such consciousness; and in any case it has now been recognized as admissible for more than a generation.
For when the matter came before the Ecclesiastical Courts in the trial of Dr. Rowland Williams for heresy (1862), the stricter view of the scope of the deacon's decla ration seems to have been unhesitatingly rejected by the judge of the Arches Court. Dr. Lushington held that the nature of the Old and New Testament ``must be borne in mind in considering the extent of the obligation imposed by the words `I do believe.''' This expression, he said, ``must be modified by the subject-matter'',---there must be a bonâ fide ``belief that the Holy Scriptures contain everything necessary to salvation, and that to that extent they have the direct sanction of the Almighty''. The view here expressed was illustrated and further defined in dealing with the particular charge that Dr. Williams' statements about the book of Daniel contradicted the declaration in the Deacon's Ordination Service. Dr. Williams had explicitly affirmed that the ``admitted necessities of the case'' undoubtedly bring our book of Daniel ``as low as the reign of Epiphanes''; the writer of the book having ``used a name traditionally sacred, with no deceptive intention, as a dramatic form which dignified his encouragement of his countrymen in their great struggle against Antiochus''. All this, says the judge, ``may be wholly erroneous, but I do not see any repugnance to the deacon's declaration''.
I conceive that an Ecclesiastical Court may fairly be taken as an authorized interpreter of the meaning and scope of an ecclesiastical formula; so that any one who accepts the canonical books, in any real sense whatever, as a divinely-inspired source of religious teaching, may with perfect veracity make the deacon's declaration, although disbelieving many statements made in these books as to historical facts.
But in this appeal to judicial authority it is important to distinguish clearly between the major and the minor premiss of the judicial syllogism. I have more than once seen arguments to the following effect: ``The legal obligations of a clergyman are a fair measure of his moral obligations; the essayists and reviewers were acquitted by the courts; therefore a clergyman may legally---and therefore morally---hold opinions similar to theirs, however apparently inconsistent with the Creeds he recites.'' And I understand Mr. Rashdall's reference to the failure of judicial prosecutions for heresy to imply reasoning of this kind; but it seems to me quite fallacious. In one sense, indeed, I think it plain that the legal obligation is the measure of the moral one; i.e., I think that a clergyman cannot be morally bound to take a stricter interpretation of his declarations and pledges than that adopted by the Ecclesiastical Courts in stating the general principles of their decisions. But it cannot reasonably be inferred that the writer of an essay is morally guiltless of holding---or even of designedly communicating---opinions that contravene his solemn affirmations, merely because this contravention cannot be proved from the language of the essay by the strict methods of proof, required to justify a legal sentence. It is easy for a writer with any literary skill to suggest to his readers in a manner practically unmistakable, and persuasively commend to their acceptance, heretical opinions which he yet does not avow in the explicit and precise form required to bring them into demonstrable conflict with the Creeds and Articles; and there can be no doubt that the Essayists and Reviewers had repeatedly adopted this course.
I may give as an illustration Dr. Williams' language in regard to the particular doctrine with which I am primarily concerned in the present discussion. His article---which was a sympathetic review of Bunsen's Biblical Researches---contained the following sentences: ``Thus the incarnation becomes with our author as purely spiritual as it was with St. Paul. The Son of David by birth is the Son of God by the Spirit of holiness. What is flesh is born of flesh, and what is Spirit is born of Spirit.'' No intelligent reader can doubt that Dr. Williams designed to suggest that the accounts of the miraculous birth of Jesus are legendary, and that He was in reality the son of Joseph. Accordingly he was charged with contravening the statement in the Second Article that the Son of God ``took man's nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin''. But his dexterous use of the language of St. Paul---who, certainly shows no knowledge of the miraculous birth---had enabled him to suggest the desired conclusion without any explicit denial of the traditional doctrine; and the judge naturally finds it impossible to condemn what cannot be denied to be a ``not unfair expression of the substance of what St. Paul wrote''. This non-condemnation, however, cannot reasonably be argued to imply that a clergyman is not bound to believe in the miraculous birth; since there can be no doubt that Dr. Williams would have been condemned at once if he had explicitly denied it.
To sum up: by a gradual introduction of a metaphorical or symbolic meaning into Words originally understood in a more literal sense, and by a gradual introduction of tacit qualifications and reserves into phrases originally understood in an absolute and unqualified sense, changes in some cases important have no doubt taken place in the common understanding of the Anglican formularies; and whether or not such changes have involved deception in the past---which I conjecture to be not the case for the most part---I hold that any person may now, without unveracity, use the phrases in the newer meaning. And I see no reason why similar changes should not take place in the future with perfect legitimacy. I quite admit that either process may conceivably be applied so as to involve substantial unveracity; but I do not think it possible to draw in general terms a clear line between the legitimate and the illegitimate introduction of new meanings in either way. The common understanding of language, changing with changes in knowledge and habitual sentiment, must be the test; but the appeal to this may in particular cases give a doubtful result. There are always likely to be differences of opinion on such questions among conscientious persons, which may be reduced, but can hardly be altogether removed, by frank and temperate discussion. Hence the decisions of Ecclesiastical Courts---taken with the limitation that I have explained---are useful as authoritatively declaring the limits of legitimate variation in the use of terms. But they are not the only means available for attaining this end. A general expression of opinion on the part of bishops or recognized theological experts---at any rate, if received with acquiescence by the Anglican clergy and laity generally---would have a similar effect. Such an expression d opinion has, in fact, taken place with regard to the damnatory clauses in the Athanasian Creed, declaring these to be applicable only to those who wilfully reject the doctrines of the Creed; and, however little any individual clergyman may think that this declaration represents the original meaning of the clauses, it would in my opinion be now over-scrupulous in him to make a difficulty about reciting the Creed on account of these clauses.
But, however difficult it may be in certain cases to decide exactly when a divergence in thought from the literal sense of any affirmation becomes illegitimate and evasive, it is easy to say that some divergences are quite beyond any defensible line; and that seems to me the case with the affirmation defended by Mr. Rashdall. The assertion that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin has a perfectly simple and definite negative meaning; it is based on well known and unmistakable statements by two evangelists, a belief in which it must certainly be understood to imply unless the opposite is expressly stated; it is impossible to conceive---and no one has ever suggested---any admissible qualification by which the phrase could be adapted to the thought of a man who believes that Jesus was the son of Joseph. Mr. Rashdall suggests that the phrase may be used to mean that Jesus was without sin from His birth; but I find it difficult to treat the suggestion seriously. A metaphor, to be undeceptive, must be accepted as such by hearers as well as speakers; whereas there is surely not the slightest chance that any part of any congregation would---without an express declaration that this was the speaker's meaning---understand the affirmation of the miraculous birth to mean an affirmation of the infant's sinlessness. And Mr. Rashdall hardly suggests that they would now so understand it; but he seems to think that they might be educated up to accept the meaning. I do not believe such education to be possible; but granting it possible, I submit that to save the statement from unveracity it must be made after the education has been performed, and not before.
It may be replied that if the Postnatalist makes his real opinion known, the mere repetition of the Creed becomes no longer unveracious because there is no deception. I quite agree that if any one declares plainly the sense in which he utters any words, then, however alien this sense may be to the common understanding of the words, there is no substantial unveracity. But in order that his act may have this character the declaration must be made publicly; a private explanation to a bishop and an incumbent is not sufficient; it would only make them accomplices in deception. Further, I cannot consider that a false statement in the recital of a Creed is rendered unobjectionable by a public declaration of its falsity; because it is likely still to give a shock to the moral sentiment of a plain man, who cannot be expected to distinguish clearly between formal and substantial unveracity; moreover, the solemn utterance of untrue words will seem to him a mockery of sacred things and offend his religious sentiment. Still, if such an express public declaration were made, the responsibility for these consequences would be thrown, in a great measure, on the Church. The Postnatalists would have fairly and frankly challenged the Church to say whether it tolerated them or not; it would be for the Church to consider whether this toleration did not of necessity involve the removal of the Apostles' Creed from its place in the service.
In any case I admit fully that a Postnatalist clergyman, who has frankly stated his views to his congregation and to the world, is not open to the charge of unveracity in the sense in which I am here mainly concerned with it. But it is important to insist that for this purpose the declaration must be perfectly frank and explicit. A heretic cannot fairly argue that the common understanding of the Church has tolerated his heresy, because he---or someone holding similar views---has not been prosecuted, or has been prosecuted and acquitted, so long as the escape from legal penalties may be reasonably attributed to the absence of a candid and explicit statement of his opinions.
Nor is it, I conceive, of any avail to urge that the belief in question has---at least for the Postnatalist, who is also a Trinitarian ---``no spiritual importance.'' This is, indeed, a consideration of much weight when the question is of his remaining in the Church and continuing to attend its services as a layman; but when it is a question of solemnly affirming a proposition without believing it, he ought to consider the significance of the belief to others rather than to himself. Now it cannot be denied that the rejection of the miraculous birth is, in the view of the great majority of Christians, a divergence of no light moment from ``the faith delivered to the saints.'' And this prevalent opinion appears to me well founded. For if the methods of modern criticism are by any one allowed to prevail so far, against scriptural narratives and ecclesiastical tradition, as to lead to the rejection of the miraculous birth of Jesus, it must be an exceptionally constituted mind that can find the authority of the evangelists still sufficient to sustain the vast weight of Nicene Theology. Most of those who have gone so far will find themselves drawn further; other miraculous stories will have to be given up as legendary; the marvellous cures of Jesus will sink into remarkable cases of faith-healing, and the accounts of the post-resurrection apparitions into a remarkable ghost story, swollen into legend by the unconscious fictions of witnesses and reporters. Thus Christianity will soon come to have a purely ethical import, and the divine sonship of Jesus, so far as it is still affirmed, will only be affirmed in the sense of unique consciousness of the relation existing, essentially or ideally, between the human spirit and the divine. No doubt there is so much friction on this inclined plane of thought that individuals may stop at almost any point: but of the general force of logic, impelling to the ultimate result that I have indicated, I can entertain no doubt.
Now I am far from any wish to disparage the form of religion resulting from the reduction of Christian dogma to this minimum; on the contrary, I should, in the present state of thought, welcome any increase of influence that it may obtain by fair advocacy; but I think that even Mr. Rashdall will agree with me in deprecating any attempt to pour this new wine into the old bottles of the Anglican formularies. And if so, it seems clearly unreasonable to ask the Church of England to throw over the Apostles' Creed, in order to admit to its ministry the handful of Postnatalists who stop at Postnatalism. But even assuming that this momentous breach with tradition is to lead to no further consequences, I should still urge---in the interest of religion, morality, and free thought at once---that it ought to be effected openly, and not through the stealthy and secret approaches recommended by Mr. Rashdall: that the new reformers should not profess loyalty to this time-honoured doctrine weekly with their lips, while their heart is far from it.Mr. Rashdall dwells on the importance of maintaining and extending ``the Christian koinonia'', and on the ``spiritual and social loss of multiplied schism''. I may remind the reader that the argument of the preceding address does not lead to external separation as a necessary result of intellectual disagreement; quite the contrary. At the same time, I think that Mr. Rashdall's language misrepresents the actual conditions of thought and social life; his ideas of ``unity'' and ``schism'' are either too far behind the age or too far in advance of it---or perhaps both at once. External unity is a hollow form without spiritual unity, unity of thought and feeling; and spiritual unity will only be completely possible for the modern mind when competent students of theology have come to an agreement on fundamental questions of principle and method, similar to that which has been already attained by students of physical science. Suppose this result reached, then the question of substituting a single for a multiple ecclesiastical organization becomes a mere question of mechanism---I do not say unimportant, but of secondary importance from a religious point of view. On the other hand, until this result is reached unity cannot but remain a sentiment, an aspiration, an unrealized ideal; though doubtless the sentiment may be developed, and the realization of the ideal brought nearer, by moral as well as intellectual methods;---by the cultivation of sympathy between different churches, by the cordial co-operation of their members in philanthropic work, by temperateness in controversy, by a sustained desire to recognize the merits and do justice to the motives of opponents. Progress is already being made in this direction, and the spiritual and social evils of schism are being thereby steadily diminished; but this progress, I conceive, will be aided, rather than impeded, by such external separation as will allow teaching to be candid, forms of prayer to be adapted to the real beliefs of the worshippers, and clerical pledges to be taken and fulfilled in the sense in which they are commonly understood. I quite agree with Mr. Rashdall that under no conditions would it be desirable that a clergyman should flaunt before a comparatively uneducated audience novel opinions that would shock and perplex them; but he should be in a position to speak frankly to thoughtful members of his flock, and such frank speaking should be reconcilable with the solemn expression of beliefs which his office prescribes. The Preacher has said that there is ``a time to speak and a time to keep silence'', and this ancient wisdom is not yet antiquated. But he has not said that there is a time to speak truly and a time to speak falsely; and I think that, in religious matters, the common sense of Christendom will reject this addition to the familiar proverb. [Back to:]