Professor Sidgwick on the Ethics of Religious Conformity: A Reply.

Hastings Rashdall

A word may be desirable, to start with, as to the theoretical principles involved in the question before us. To Professor Sidgwick truth is valuable simply on account of its social utility, and social utility means greatest quantum of pleasure. I accept the test of social utility; I do not accept the hedonistic interpretation of social utility. I regard truth, that is to say the anxious pursuit, love, and enjoyment of truth, of which veracity is one of the outward expressions, as an end in itself---an element in that ideal human life which it is the aim of morality to produce. It is a good in itself, though (like other goods) it may sometimes have to be sacrificed for a greater good or a more important element in the ``good life'' which alone is ultimately good. Such an ethical creed might naturally be expected to lead to a stricter interpretation of the obligations of religious conformity than Professor Sidgwick's hedonistic utilitarianism. But it is a quite familiar experience to find that men's actual moral judgments are not those which seem to their opponents most naturally to follow from their speculative principles. Professor Sidgwick's personal attitude on this matter is almost what might have been expected from a Kantian rigorist, though his article represents apparently a certain mitigation of the views which he once entertained. I need hardly dwell on the respect which is due to the views of a writer who has in the course of his own earlier life given so practical an exhibition of the sincerity and earnestness with which his principles are held as is implied in the resignation of a Fellowship for conscience' sake. To those who are anxious to maintain the comprehensiveness of the Church of England by a liberal interpretation of its formulæ, it must be a matter of profound regret that the judgment of such a man as Professor Sidgwick should be on the whole against them.

The fact that such an article has appeared seems to make it desirable that some one who believes in the possibility of combining honesty with a considerable measure of theological liberalism within the limits of the Church of England should attempt some kind of apology for his position. In speaking of theological liberalism, let me, however, say at once that I quite recognize that there are some kinds of theological liberalism which do unfit a man for the ministry of the Church of England. As soon as the appeal is made to social utility (however interpreted), it is obvious that there may be circumstances under which it is justifiable to make formal statements which are not strictly and literally true. To any one who regards veracity (on whatever grounds) as socially important, it is obvious also that such latitudinarianism must have limits. So much is fully admitted by Professor Sidgwick. The only question, therefore, between us is as to the exact point at which these limits should be fixed. Professor Sidgwick would fully admit that it is impossible to define exactly the extent to which formally untrue enunciations of opinion should be permitted. We should probably agree as to any general statement which could be drawn up. The difference between us lies rather in the minor than in the major premise of our moral syllogism. It is admitted that it is right to depart from strict veracity (i) to a certain extent (2) for an adequate end. On the present question the difference between Professor Sidgwick and myself is, (1) as to the extent to which such laxity of subscription as I should advocate actually involves untruthfulness and carries with it the evils attendant upon unveracity in ordinary cases; (2) as to the importance of the ends to be served by the ``religious conformity'' which is thus made possible. In what I have to say on each of these topics I shall confine myself entirely to the case of the clergy. With regard to the slighter expressions of theological assent demanded from laymen, I should not greatly differ from the views expressed by Professor Sidgwick, except that I should strongly advocate the sort of conformity which he seems inclined rather to tolerate than to encourage, though here, too, I should quite admit that even lay conformity should have limits. There are very probably many persons who attend Church of England services for whom it would be spiritually healthier to go elsewhere.

To what extent does formal assent to statements not literally accepted involve unveracity? It may seem somewhat of a paradox to say that my apology for minimizing the unveracity involved in the practice must consist very largely in maximizing the extent of the formal divergence between the accepted doctrinal standards of the Church of England and the actual beliefs of her clergy. It will generally be admitted that for ethical purposes words must be understood to mean what they are generally taken to mean. Professor Sidgwick, at all events, is the last man in the world to encourage exaggerated scruples about using forms of politeness which fail to express the real mental attitude of the speaker. He would not hesitate to write ``Dear Sir'' to a man whom he hated or to address as ``Right Reverend'' a prelate whom he despised. He would not hesitate, I presume, as a volunteer or member of Parliament, to swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria and her heirs and successors according to law, although fully prepared under certain quite conceivable circumstances to take part in a republican revolution. While holding it a duty to resign a Fellowship held on condition of subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, he would scarcely have recommended any one to resign because he had sworn or promised to observe a mass of partially obsolete University or College statutes, or to refuse to be married with the service of the Church because he did not really expect of his wife either what the sixteenth century would have understood by ``obedience'', or what the nineteenth century understands by ``worship''. Hence, the wider and more generally recognized the difference between the formal professions and the private beliefs of the clergy, the stronger becomes the ethical justification of latitudinarian subscription.

Now, it is quite easy to show that at the present day there are few clergymen whose private belief corresponds with the letter of the formulæ to which they profess adhesion. There are few clergymen who really hold that,

``Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his Spirit are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the school-authors say) deserve grace of congruity; yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.''---Article XIII.

It can hardly be sincerely contended that the virtues of Socrates sprang ``out of faith in Jesus Christ'': therefore, according to the Article, they have the nature of sin. There can have been comparatively few clergymen perhaps in any age of the Church, certainly few during the last two centuries, who really believed anything of the kind. At the present day there can be very few who even think that they believe it. Yet this is what they formally ``assent'' to. And the justification of their conduct lies in the fact that no reasonably well-informed person actually supposes that they mean by the statement what the old Puritan who framed that appalling sentence undoubtedly intended that they should mean by it. There are of course recognized means of evasion. I turn to the most orthodox and authoritative ``Exposition'' of the Articles, and I am told that ``with regard to the teaching of the Article we may fairly conclude that it refers rather to the case of persons within, not without, the sound of the Gospel'', and so on. But there is nothing of this in the Article itself. It would be quite easy to the most Gallican of Romanists (as many good priests no doubt have found) to assent to the Vatican decrees by the aid of similar ``fair conclusions''. Such conduct may be justifiable or it may not, but it is not strict veracity. The people whom it is necessary to consider are not deceived. But yet, as it will be important to bear in mind in the course of our argument, it is not true to say that nobody is deceived. Doubtless many a theologically-minded nursery maid, curiously investigating the concluding pages of the Prayer-book, has really thought ``Well, I suppose that is what I have got to believe'', and many a man of the world, glancing through these pages during a dull sermon, has said to himself, ``Well, this is what the clergy believe; what fools the clergy must be!'' Yet surely even Professor Sidgwick would not hold that it is wrong to take orders because one does not believe that Socrates is damned. It is a balance of utilities. It is a grave evil that clergymen should have to make statements which by unreflecting persons, too ignorant or too indifferent to ascertain their real beliefs, may be taken as committing them to such a doctrine; but it would be a far graver evil---whether from the highest religious point of view or from that of the most materialistic social convenience---that the ministry of the Church of England should be recruited exclusively from people who do believe that Socrates is damned. If it be said that a general refusal to take orders on the present terms would speedily lead to an alteration of the Article, the answer is that neither my personal refusal nor the refusal of even quite a large number of exceptionally scrupulous people would bring about such a general reluctance to take orders; or that, if it did, the process would not be complete till the evil was done. Long before the impossibility of getting men to take orders had overcome the intense conservatism of all religious organizations, the clerical profession would consist of none but men who were ex hypothesi below the average standard either of intelligence or of scrupulosity.

With regard to such Articles as the one quoted there will be a very general agreement. It is now widely (though not quite universally) admitted that it is legitimate to subscribe to the Articles in a very elastic and unnatural sense. Indeed, among the most numerous section of the clergy---the section which insists most rigorously upon the inflexible adherence to certain other of the Church's formulæ---nothing can exceed the contempt with which the Thirty-nine Articles are commonly treated. A third of the Articles at least require much accommodation before they can be squared with the received High Church views. At least the extreme section---a section including several bishops and some thousands of clergy---do require us to believe as Articles of faith things which they do not attempt to prove by the Bible. They teach views about justification and predestination which would have been pronounced Pelagian by the framers of Articles IX., XIII., and VII. (however true it may be that the views expressed are Thomist rather than either Lutheran or Calvinistic). Many of them do hold precisely that doctrine about the ``religious'' life against which the Article ``Of Works of Supererogation'' was directed. Men who are so anxious to prevent Spanish Protestants from renouncing their allegiance to the Bishop of Rome and the Bishop of Madrid can hardly suppose that ``the Church of Rome hath erred in matters of faith''. Most decided High Churchmen would ridicule the idea that ``General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes''. Many of their recognized theologians deliberately assert that the doctrine condemned as ``the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints'' is not really the doctrine of the Church of Rome (as the Article declares it to be) but a popular and ignorant misconstruction of it. The whole of the Articles on the Sacraments (xxv.--xxxiii.), it is hardly denied, would reasonably be taken to be Protestant or ``Uncatholic'' by any one who did not read them in the light of the Baptismal or Eucharistic Offices of the Church. The whole of the party in question is bitterly opposed to the Queen's supremacy ``in all causes''. I have not a word to say against the reasons by which the High Churchman---even the extreme High Church man---justifies his position in the Church of England, though in this direction, as in others, I should admit that this tolerated laxity should have some limits. A clergyman who openly tells you that he sees nothing wrong in the doctrine or the practice of the Church of Rome (and there are such) has no place in the Church of England. I am simply insisting that, if anybody supposes that the Articles really express the actual views of the clergy, he must be singularly inobservant of their pulpit and other utterances. The justification of such laxity lies in a general understanding that the old formula shall be used in a new sense. It is a recognized principle in all such matters that it is the ``animus imponentis'' that determines the sense in which such declarations are taken; and the ``animus imponentis'' should be sought in the present rather than in the past. Whether we consider the ``imponent'' of the test to be the Nation as represented by Parliament, the Church understood in whatever sense you please, or the individual Bishop by whom the subscriber is ordained or licensed or instituted, there is a general agreement that subscription does not imply such a literal acceptance of the formulæ as would be alone consistent with a rigorist interpretation of the duty of absolute veracity, as far as regards this particular department of conduct.

It is true, of course, that there is no general consent as to the limits within which such laxity is permissible. It is true, moreover, that such liberty as now exists has been won by a gradual succession of increasing extensions of the understanding formerly accepted, each of which at the time it was introduced would have been perhaps generally condemned. And if anybody objects to our availing ourselves of a liberty which was won by acts which at the time they were committed may have been generally thought, and may perhaps have been, actually unjustifiable, we may be reminded that all accepted extensions or relaxations of any over-rigid moral rule have been brought about in the same way. A man who addressed his enemy as ``My dear Jones'' two hundred years ago would have been culpably insincere. He is not so now, largely on account of the conduct of several generations of culpably insincere persons, just as a more rational Sunday has largely been secured by the conduct of people who were acting against their consciences. But personally I should not admit that every man who went one step further in the latitudinarian direction than was recognized by the current morality of his day was doing a wrong act. On the contrary, it is just because increased liberty can only be secured by the individual to some extent ``taking the law into his own hands'', and doing what many of his best contemporaries would think dishonest or untruthful, that I venture to contend that the principle of liberalizing interpretation may be carried a little farther than can be justified by a strict insistence upon the principle, ``words must be taken to mean what they are generally understood to mean''. Even the most widely recognized degree of liberty does deceive some people. And if we insist on using no religious language which could possibly be understood in a sense different from that in which we use it, it would be impossible for an educated man to talk to a young child or a country laborer about God or sin without misunderstanding. There are thousands to whom it would be impossible to speak on such topics at all without being understood to assent to the picture of an old man with a long white beard which would inevitably rise up before the mind's eye of his hearer. Yet the consequence of refusing to use any religious language at all would be to make religious instruction and religious progress impossible, So, in regard to taking orders, the question for each man's conscience is, ``The actual state of society being what it is, will this non-natural use of language do more harm by weakening the respect for truth and sincerity among people who cannot understand the reasons for what I am doing, than I shall do good by accepting the office of a clergyman on these terms, and contributing to a further step in that process of religious development which has proved so beneficial in times past?'' So far, I imagine, the principle would be admitted by Professor Sidgwick; the question is as to the extent of its application.

On one subject there is happily a very general disposition to sanction an extension of the latitudinarian principle which forty---perhaps even twenty---years ago would have been almost universally condemned. The acceptance of the main results of the most advanced Old Testament criticism, by the leaders of the High Church party, has brought within the limits of toleration almost any view of the facts of Jewish history and of the Old Testament Canon which could conceivably be held by any one who could call himself---in any distinctive theological sense of the word---a Christian, and yet the declaration of belief in the whole Old and New Testament demanded of candidates for orders is immensely stronger and more precise than the assent required to the Prayer-book and Articles. Before being ordained or licensed to a curacy, or instituted to a benefice, a clergyman is required to say, ``I, A B, do solemnly make the following Declaration: I assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and to the Book of Common Prayer and of Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; I believe the doctrine of the Church of England, as therein set forth, to be agreeable to the Word of God; and, in public prayer and administration of the Sacraments, I will use the Form in the said Book prescribed, and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority.'' This general declaration of ``assent'' was (it is worth noticing) deliberately substituted by Parliament and both Convocations in 1865 for certain very much stronger and more explicit declarations: so that in insisting on the vagueness and generality of the present declaration and 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. In 1865 the Nation and the Church of England solemnly declared that they did not expect that degree of subjective ``conformity'' which had been exacted by earlier legislation. Unfortunately, when this most salutary reform was introduced, nothing was done to relieve the candidate for ordination from being solemnly asked by the Bishop before the assembled congregation, ``Do you unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament?'' and from the necessity of replying by the words, ``I do believe them.'' Nothing could be more explicit. Yet there is an all but universal agreement that a young man need not abandon his intention of taking holy orders because he has noticed that the first chapter of Genesis contradicts the facts of geology or that the narrative in the Books of Kings does not exactly tally with the statements of the Chronicles: while there is a very wide, though less general, opinion that the declaration may be made by persons who believe the whole of the Old Testament miracles and large portions of the remaining narrative to be absolutely unhistorical. Such would certainly be the attitude of the recognized leaders of the younger High Church party, and it is impossible to be too grateful to the man who---the first among recognized and trusted High Church leaders with a reputation for orthodoxy to lose---had the courage openly to proclaim views which had for many years been accepted as a matter of course in academic and cultivated clerical circles. There was, indeed, nothing in Canon Gore's view of the Old Testament which would not have been accepted by the recognized Broad Churchmen for the last fifty years. But the Arnolds, the Maurices, and the Stanleys were recognized heretics. Their scepticism never touched the great mass of the clergy. When it was suggested in ``Lux Mundi''---with whatever reserve, caution, and accommodation---that the story of the Fall might be an allegory, the whole Psalter post-Davidic, and so on, the younger High Churchmen began, for the first time, seriously to ask themselves, ``Are these things so?'' The answer which the more intelligent, the more studious, the more courageous have given is substantially, ``They are.'' The answer which the vast majority have given is at all events, ``A man may be a good Christian and a good Churchman who thinks they are so.'' Whatever view they may adopt as to the authority or inspiration of the Old Testament, that can make no difference. It is not the inspiration or the spiritual value of the Bible to which the candidate for orders is formally pledged, but the actual truth of its contents. No one who declares that he believes a book which in his view contains contradictory and unhistorical statements can object on grounds of strict veracity (of course there may be many objections on the ground of expediency) to a further extension of the same principle. If he contends, for instance, that the New Testament must be treated differently from the Old, he may have much to say for himself, but he cannot simply take up the position, ``Clergymen of the Church of England say they believe such and such things: you are dishonest if you are a clergyman of the Church of England and don't believe them.''

At exactly what point Professor Sidgwick would himself place the limit of justifiable conformity, he does not very explicitly tell us. But on two matters he seems to be prepared to draw a hard and fast line,---(1) in the matter of miracles, (2) in the matter of the creeds. Whatever else a clergyman may doubt, he must (Professor Sidgwick would seem to suggest) believe,

I. In miracles.

II. In the most literal interpretation of everything contained in the creeds.

I should like to say a few words on each of these points. Professor Sidgwick says:

``Christianity, in the course of its history, has adapted itself to many philosophies; and I do not doubt that there is much essentially modern thought about the Universe, its End and Ground and Moral Order, which will bear to be thrown into the mould of these time-honoured creeds. But there is one line of thought which is not compatible with them, and that is the line of thought which, taught by modern science and modern historical criticism, concludes against the miraculous element of the Gospel history, and, in particular, rejects the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus. I would give all sympathy to those who are trying to separate the ethical and religious element in their inherited creed from the doubts and difficulties that hang about the `thaumaturgical' element, and so to cherish the vital ties that connect the best and highest of our modern sentiments and beliefs, religious and moral, with the sacred books and venerable traditions of Christianity. It is not a work in which I am personally able to take part, for more than one reason; but I think it a good work and profitable for these times. But it is work that cannot properly be done within the pale of the Anglican ministry.''

Why the line is to be drawn exactly at this point, Professor Sidgwick fails to indicate. We are left to conjecture. Such a position might conceivably be defended on two grounds either (1) on the ground that the discrepancy between formal profession and actual belief becomes so glaring that truth suffers in a way which it does not suffer from (say) a strained interpretation of the Articles about justification; or (2) that here we are no longer able to appeal to that recognized system of understandings which remove so many formally inaccurate statements from the category of lying or dishonesty. I will examine each of these grounds in detail. Speaking generally, the first view seems to me quite untenable; the second has undoubtedly much weight, and demands most careful consideration. I can see no reason at all, so long as the question is treated as one of mere formal veracity, why a clergyman should be considered dishonest who does not believe in some particular Gospel miracle if it is admitted that he is not dishonest for not believing that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, or that the world was made in six days. Acceptance of miracles as such can only be demanded of the clergy because they are mentioned in Scripture. Just the same profession of belief is made in the miracles of the Old Testament and in those of the New. If it be insisted that certain particular miracles are asserted by the Creeds, I should answer---so long as the question is treated simply as one of technical veracity---that 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. If it is urged that in practice there is an understanding about the Old Testament which does not exist about the New, that in practice belief in the substance of the Creeds occupies a very different position in the working belief of ordinary congregations than belief in Jonah or the Garden of Eden, this I should fully admit, but this is really to adopt the second of the two lines of attack mentioned above. The question is now one of what we may call general ethical or spiritual expediency, not of mere technical veracity. And from this point of view the distinction between the Creeds and the Old Testament or the Articles becomes most important.

But the question cannot be treated as a plain and straightforward question between miracles on the one hand and modern science or criticism with no miracles on the other. No doubt, by one who is disposed to look upon the matter in this light, the rejection of miracles might very probably be held an insuperable bar of exclusion from the Anglican ministry. I don't say whether he would be right or wrong; but such a view would be quite intelligible. But to many minds the matter does not present itself in this simple fashion. It will scarcely be contended that belief in ``miracles'' as such is in any way demanded of clergymen of the Church of England. It is not miracles as such, but certain events commonly conceived of as miraculous in which belief is professed. No doubt the common definition of ``miracle'' is an ``event contrary to the laws of nature''. But many writers of unquestioned orthodoxy, from Augustine onwards, have maintained that miracles are not really contrary to the laws of nature. I am not concerned now with the reasonableness or otherwise of these views. I merely wish to point out that between the acceptance of the whole of the alleged extraordinary events recorded in the Old and New Testaments as due to the suspension of the laws of nature by the immediate volition of God, and the treatment of all such events as either entirely unhistorical or as merely natural events of no special religious significance, it is possible to discriminate quite a considerable variety of mental attitudes.

1. There is the position of those who would accept the whole of these events and yet contend that they were due to the operation of ``higher law''. Many orthodox theologians, from Augustine downward, have denied that anything ever happens contrary to the laws of nature. Such a view would no doubt be regarded by Professor Sidgwick as amounting, for all practical purposes, to a belief in miracles. But, if it is once admitted that not everything recorded in the Old and New Testaments is necessary to Christian belief, a man can hardly be regarded as disqualified because he holds some theory, critical or scientific, which compels him to discriminate between different classes of commonly so-called miracles recorded in Scripture.

2. And that brings us to some such view of miracles as is suggested, for instance, by Dr. Sanday, Margaret Professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, who would possibly claim and be claimed to be a believer in some not unnatural sense of all the Articles recorded in the Apostles' Creed. Yet he has ventured to say in a valuable little tract on ``Free-thinking'':

``Into the philosophy of these marvellous phenomena I do not enter. What is their relation to God's ordinary government of the universe I do not feel competent to say. I do not myself believe that they are in the strict sense `breaches' of natural law. I believe that if we could see as God sees we should become aware of links and connections, at present hidden from us, binding together the mighty organism of facts and processes into a mysterious, but still harmonious whole. I am also not prepared to say that if the miracles of the New Testament had been described by competent observers in the nineteenth century, instead of their actual eye-witnesses in the first, there would not have been a perceptible difference in the narratives. All these concessions I should be willing to make; and I could understand others pressing them further than I should care to press them myself. But on one simple proposition I should take my stand, as a rock of certainty amidst much that is uncertain: Miracles did actually happen.''

In the same tract he goes a little nearer to a definition of ``miracles'' by saying (1) ``I am actually certain the facts (he is here speaking of the Pauline Charismata) … were real''; (2) that ``to account for them our conception of nature must be greatly enlarged''.

Professor Sanday would probably recognize his explanation as applicable to all those so-called miracles to which special importance is commonly attached by Christians, though he would unquestionably assert the right of rejecting particular miraculous incidents on critical grounds.

3. At one degree further removed from the traditional stand-point comes the view expressed by Mr. Frederic Myers in his most suggestive criticism upon Renan:

``It is not unreasonable to suppose that such a life and work as Christ's upon earth was accompanied by some abnormal phenomena … As soon as these abnormalities are conceived as possibly reducible to law, it is seen how unphilosophical it is to mass them all together. When they were looked upon as violations of law there was certainly a kind of absurdity in claiming `moderation' for the Gospel miracles. But if the Gospels be taken as a humanly inaccurate record of unusual but strictly natural phenomena, it is but reasonable to sift these phenomena among themselves. All the causes alleged as working for the distortion of the history may in fact have worked, and may have had their share in shaping the account; and yet there may be a residuum highly important both to science and to religion. Historical criticism shows us that some of these phenomena are supported by better evidence than others. Scientific criticism tells us that some of them come nearer than others to known analogy. The scientific way of dealing with them will be, not to ignore all of them equally, but to begin with those which are most strongly affirmed, and for whose subsequent repetition there is also most evidence, and to examine in detail what that evidence is worth. For instance, none of these wonders are more strongly affirmed than that Christ healed the sick with his touch, and appeared to his disciples after death. Can it be said, or rather would it be said, if no professional pedantry intervened, that the action of one human organism on another is thoroughly understood? that the phenomena called hypnotism or mesmerism have been explained? that the physiological doctrine as regards what is styled the influence of mind on body is settled or complete? Can it be said, or rather would it be said, if no polemical passion were involved, that the widely spread accounts of apparitions seen at the moment of death, or soon after death, have been collected and scrutinized as they would have been had the testimony related to any other class of facts? Notoriously they have not been so collected and so weighed … Some of the outlying facts whose production Aristotle tranquilly ascribed to `chance and spontaneity' have proved the corner-stones of later discovery. And the bizarre but obstinately recurring phenomena which thus far have been inadequately attested and incompletely disproved, which have been left as the nucleus of legend and the nidus of charlatanerie, may in their turn form the starting-point for wider generalizations, for unexpected confirmations of universal law. A history of primitive Christianity which sets them altogether aside may be the clearest and most consistent history of which existing knowledge admits, but it can only be a provisional one. It can hardly be expected, for instance, that the common sense of the public will permanently accept any of the present critical explanations of the alleged appearance of Christ after death. It will not accept the view of Strauss, according to which the `mythopoeic faculty' creates a legend without an author and without a beginning; so that when St. Paul says `He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve', he is repeating about acquaintances of his own an extraordinary assertion, which was never originated by any definite person on any definite grounds, but which somehow proved so persuasive to the very men who were best able to contradict it that they were willing to suffer death for its truth … Nor will men continue to believe---if anybody besides M. Renan believes it now---that the faithful were indeed again and again convinced that their risen Master was standing visibly among them, but thought this because there was an accidental noise or a puff of air, or even an étrange miroitement, an atmospheric effect. An étrange miroitement! Paley's `Evidences' is not a subtle book, nor a spiritual book. But one wishes that the robust Paley with his `twelve men of known probity' were alive again to deal with hypotheses like this. The Apostles were not so like a British jury as Paley imagined them. But they were more like a British jury than a parcel of hysterical monomaniacs.

``And if, as we must hold, the common sense of mankind will insist on feeling that the marvels of the New Testament history have as yet neither been explained away nor explained, so also will it assuredly refuse to concur with the view, often expressed both in the scientific and the theological camps, according to which these marvels are after all unimportant, the spiritual content of the Gospels is everything, and religion and science alike may be glad to get rid of the miracles as soon as possible. According to the cruder view of the Gospel wonders, indeed, this would be reasonable enough. To wish to convert men by magic, to prove theological dogmas by upsetting the sequence of things, this is neither truly religious nor truly scientific. But if these Gospel signs and wonders are considered as indications of laws which embrace, and in a sense unite, the seen and the unseen worlds, then surely it is of extreme importance to science that they should occur anywhere, and of immense importance to Christianity that they should occur in connection with the foundation of that faith.''

4. Lastly, we may just distinguish (though not without some difficulty) from the above a position which would perhaps commonly be considered to amount to a denial of ``miracles''. Dr. Abbott admits that Christ performed ``mighty works'', but would treat them as cases---perhaps exceptional and even unique cases---of the well-attested phenomenon of faith-healing. So again he would deny the Resurrection in the sense of a corporeal revivification of the buried body of Jesus, but admit the reality of the Resurrection vision. It is not quite clear how far he would account for this vision by universally admitted psychological laws (such would seem to be his position in ``Philochristus''), or how far he would, like Mr. Myers, regard the occurrence as analogous to other recorded cases of vision or telepathy which are not universally acknowledged by the accepted representatives of ``science'', but which may quite well be accepted without any admission of ``violations of laws of nature''. It is clear that the religious significance of the so-called miraculous events connected with the life of Christ might be seriously affected by the answer given to this question. In his later works Dr. Abbott seems to lean to this last alternative:

``Looking at the facts in this light, we have in the first place to set before ourselves the short life of One of whom we must merely say that He was unique in the goodness and grandeur of His character, and that He died with the unfulfilled purpose of redeeming mankind from sin, deserted for the moment by the few disciples who had adhered to Him almost to the last. He died, for the time, the most pitiable, the most despair-inspiring death that the world has ever witnessed, asking in His last moments why He had been `forsaken' by God. But His death---pardon me if I deviate for one moment from material to celestial facts, provided that I never deviate into miracles---was really the triumph over death, and His Spirit had in reality (we speak in a metaphor) broken open the bars of the grave, and ascended to the throne of the Father, carrying with Himself the promise of the ultimate redemption of mankind. This was now to be revealed to the world as the culminating vision in that continuous Revelation through the Imagination by which the minds of men had been led to look beyond this life to a life that knows no end …

``The movements of the risen Saviour appear to me to have been the movements of God; His manifestations to the faith of the Apostles were divine acts, passing direct from God to the souls of men. Since therefore these manifestations belonged to the class of things which `can only be apprehended by God, or in God, by faith', I call them `absolute realities',---as much more real than flesh and blood, as God Himself is more real than the paper on which I am now writing.''

Now, the question is not whether any of these views is satisfactory, whether from the point of view of orthodoxy or from that of ``science'', but whether it is justifiable for one who holds them to make the declarations required on taking orders, and to use the Prayer-book. I have already attempted to show that we cannot fairly exclude the holders of such views merely because the events which they thus explain are contained in the Creeds, whereas other miracles about which more latitude is admitted are not so included. Yet it may still be contended that some or all of these explanations are inadmissible on account of the position which the events themselves, and even the belief in their strictly miraculous (i.e., extra-law-of-nature) character actually holds in the belief of the great majority of ordinary Christians. I will not deny the great difference which is constituted by this fact, in so far as it is a fact, nor will I deny that any one who regarded (say) the Resurrection as a mere case of ordinary subjective delusion would, at present at least, find his position in the Church of England a somewhat difficult one. But what I do want most strongly to assert is that the question upon which the possibility of honestly taking orders depends is not primarily the question of miracles, but the question of the nature and historical position of Christ. No doubt to most ordinary Christians the two questions are inextricably bound up. They believe, or they think that they believe, the Divinity of Christ because they believe in his miracles. But there is a general consensus among modern apologists not to rest the Divinity of Christ upon his miracles, but to accept the miracles---in whatever sense they are accepted---as natural sequences, accompaniments, corollaries of the appearance in the world of a unique Personality in whom they recognize the culmination of that self-revelation of God of which all history is the record. As to the meaning which is attached to the doctrine of Christ's Divinity, there ought, I should contend, to be much liberty of interpretation, because experience shows that much liberty of interpretation is consistent with that community of feeling, of worship, and of religious and moral activity, in which Church membership consists. But the man who cannot accept the Divine Sonship of Christ in some real, distinctive, exceptional sense is (I should personally be disposed to think too far out of sympathy with ordinary religious feeling to make his ministrations useful to the ordinary Church of England congregation, or to enable him to throw the expression of his own devotional feeling with any naturalness into the forms provided by the Church of England.

To any one who holds that the central doctrine of Christianity rests upon grounds other and quite distinct from the historical evidence for the miracles of Christ, the whole question of miracles becomes one of secondary importance. It does not follow that it is one of no importance, either on its own account or as affecting the power of associating oneself with the religious beliefs and the worship of others. Personally I think it probable that to most of those who do accept in some unique sense the divine Sonship of Christ, the miracles of healing will not appear either purely legendary or mere vulgar cases of ``thaumaturgy'', nor will they find it difficult to believe in the historical character or in the religious significance of the Resurrection vision, explain it how they may. And these are the two points on which the ordinary Christian consciousness insists most strongly. Whatever his theory of miracles may be, the clergyman who can tell the sick man that Christ went about curing diseases and who can point to the disciples' vision as an illustration or manifestation of the immortality of Christ, and, therefore, of all men, has enough in common with the beliefs of simple people to make it quite possible for him to perform the duties of clergymen without any painful sense of unreality to himself, and with advantage to his flock.

There is one question which I should rather have passed over, but on which candor compels me to say a word. Professor Sidgwick seems to lend his sanction to those who would regard the miraculous birth of Christ as the crucial question for candidates for the ministry of the Church of England. Doubt or disbelief in this Article of the Creed is, I believe, the obstacle which keeps out of holy orders by far the greater number of those who might otherwise have become useful clergymen. It is at this point, no doubt, that many---perhaps most---liberal-minded orthodox persons would draw the line of exclusion. The idea of the Incarnation has been so closely associated in their minds with the miraculous birth that they can hardly understand the distinction between them. They have not noticed that neither of the two great formulators of the Church's belief about the Incarnation, St. Paul and St. John, have anything to say about the miraculous birth. They have not noticed that the only traces of the doctrine in the New Testament are confined to the prefaces to the first and third Gospels, neither of which seems to belong to the two early documents which modern criticism is agreed in regarding as the basis of our existing Synoptists. These facts place the miraculous birth of Christ in a different category from the other alleged miracles of Jesus Christ, for many even of those who do not themselves reject it. To many minds, even of those who recognize the critical difficulty, the miraculous birth seems the most natural way of explaining the divine nature of Christ. The fact seems so probable upon the hypothesis of that nature, and the improbability seems so great of the Church having been allowed to commit itself so universally to an unfounded or superfluous belief, that it will be accepted as a natural corollary to the Divinity of Christ, even where it is fully realized that the direct historical evidence for it is very slight, and that its spiritual importance is at least not of the highest order, provided there is a real belief in the doctrine of which the miraculous birth seems to them an outwork, a presupposition, or a corollary. But equally certain is it that there are other minds to whom the weakness of the evidence and the possibility of aftergrowth and legendary embellishment (to say nothing of the exceptional difficulty of bringing such an event under the widest and most elastic conception of uniform law) seem so great that they will feel themselves forced to reject the miraculous birth altogether, or at least to suspend judgment about the whole matter. However wrong these last may be, it is impossible to believe that the Church will permanently exclude from its ministry those who differ from the majority as to their exact critical estimate of two documents of unknown origin which seem to them at least of no spiritual importance, when it has admitted the principles of free criticism, of accepting or rejecting miraculous narratives on critical grounds, and of declining to rest the Divinity of Christ or the truth of Christianity upon the evidence of this or any other miracle. At all events those who think that the difference between them and the orthodox party on this matter is one of no spiritual significance are fully justified (as it seems to me) in holding to their position in the ranks of the Church's ministry until they are turned out of it. And if Professor Sidgwick asks, ``Who is to decide as to the essentiality of the belief?'' I answer, ``Undoubtedly the individual himself, but in so deciding he must have regard to the actual state of public opinion on the subject.'' I do not think he is bound to satisfy himself that public opinion has critically and explicitly recognized the non-essentiality of the particular disbelief which he proposes to bring within the limits of toleration; for, by the nature the case, the question is one which public opinion has not explicitly answered. But I think a man ought 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. He must feel that he has a fair case for arguing that the toleration of his own views falls logically within the principles which are generally recognized as not inconsistent with the formal pledges of a clergyman.

If the Church eventually decides against him, if the Church's constituted authorities legally exclude him from her ministry or deprive him of his position, he may regard their decisions as unwise or narrow-minded, and do all he can to get it altered,, but he cannot deny that they are acting within their rights. And in cases of doubt there is surely one very intelligible way of ascertaining the " essentiality of a belief." If any one doubts whether some particular tenet of his-such as disbelief in the miraculous birth-does or does not exceed the limits of the liberty which the Church by its practical conduct has proclaimed, he may surely feel justified in throwing the responsibility of his ordination upon the authorized interpreter of the Church's rules, the Bishop to whom he applies for ordination. It may be of interest to any one who is hesitating to take orders on this ground to know that the most learned and most universally respected theologian among the English Bishops of this generation consented to ordain a candidate who confessed to him that the question of the miraculous birth was to him an open question.

There are no doubt persons who will be disposed to insist that the fact of the miraculous birth finding a place in the Creeds makes all the difference. If this distinction between that portion of the Church's doctrine which has found expression in the Creeds and that which has not depends upon the belief in the infallibility of the Church, it is enough to reply that such a distinction can appeal only to those who believe in the infallibility (as distinct from the authority) of the Church,---a belief directly opposed to the teaching of the Thirty-nine Articles, and repudiated by many decided High Churchmen. The Church of England attributes no authority to the Apostles' or the Nicene Creed which she does not attribute also to the Athanasian, that part of the Church's formularies to which (at least as regards the ``damnatory clauses'') it is most generally agreed to apply the principle of liberal interpretation. And, if it be said that the more frequent repetition of the two older formulæ makes a practical difference, it may be replied that I am contemplating cases in which there is a general acceptance in some possible sense of the general view of Christ's person and work, but that there are clauses in both the Apostles' and the Nicene Creed which most orthodox clergymen would explain in a way different from that which was probably intended by their authors. Few clergymen probably believe in a literal descent of Christ into a local Hades, and a definite intercourse with the disembodied spirits of the Patriarchs. Many assuredly would understand the Resurrection of the Body in a sense which puts a considerable strain upon the term ``body''. Few of them believe that Baptism brings about the forgiveness of sins in the instantaneous or mechanical manner which the Article ``I believe in one Baptism for the remission of sins'' was, as a matter of history, intended to convey. It is possible for those who reject the miraculous birth to find in the clause ``Conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary'' a meaning scarcely further removed from its historical import than the generally received sense of not a few other Articles. The importance rightly or wrongly attached to the Virgin birth was no doubt largely due to the feeling that a birth in accordance with the ordinary laws of nature would involve the inheritance of the sinful qualities inherent in human flesh. Those who believe (as many even among Unitarians do believe) that Jesus Christ was without sin may thus be said to accept the spiritual truth which the early Church, rightly or wrongly, associated with a certain physical or historical fact.

There is this great difference between the position which the Virgin birth occupies in the beliefs of average Christians and that occupied by other miraculous events (commonly so called) in Christ's life. The miraculous birth is usually assumed, but rarely (except for purposes of controversy) alluded to or insisted upon. A clergyman who should preach on Easter Day without alluding to the Resurrection of Christ would suggest that he disbelieved it. But it is perfectly possible to teach all that an ordinary congregation expects to be taught about the Incarnation or the Divinity of Christ without touching upon the question of the Virgin birth. This is one of the reasons why the position of a clergyman who does not hold the Virgin birth seems to be in practice much easier than that of one who cannot attribute some kind of historical as well as spiritual meaning to the Article ``The third day he rose again from the dead''. And this brings me to another point in Professor Sidgwick's argument upon which it is incumbent upon me to say something,---the question of the duty of publicly announcing the sense in which one believes the formularies to which one has subscribed.

Professor Sidgwick rightly insists on the shock to public morality involved in the making of untrue statements by authorized teachers of religion and morality. But the real injury to truth, as I conceive it, lies not in the formal subscription to formula which no one takes or can be supposed to take quite literally, but in the practical acquiescence in and encouragement of beliefs which one does not hold. Professor Sidgwick has insisted upon the duty of a lay candidate for a Head-Mastership open to ``members of the Church of England'', writing clearly to the electing body ``how he interprets his pledge to believe the Apostle's Creed''. In the case of the clergy, however, he does not seem disposed to allow that the duty of adhering to formal pledges may be modified by an open avowal of the ``sense in which he interprets his pledge''. To my own mind this is just the point upon which the distinction between the permissible and the unpermissible latitudinarianism turns. The man who has told the Bishop who ordains him, the incumbent who gives him a title, and (by the general tenor of his teaching) the congregation before whom he preaches in ``what sense he interprets'' his acceptance of the formularies, is exactly in the position of the lay Head-Master who has told the governing body in what sense he understands his lay membership of the Church of England. Dishonesty only begins when a man takes orders under a creed which he could not on fitting occasions avow.

In deciding what these fitting occasions are, it becomes important to distinguish between saying what one does not believe and not saying what one does believe. The use of formulæ which here and there are at variance with one's real belief is almost inevitable if any considerable number of people are to agree to worship in the same words. The use of such formulæ will not at the present day, by well-informed people, be taken necessarily to represent the private belief of the clergyman with the same fidelity as the words voluntarily chosen by himself in a sermon or a book. I hold that a clergyman should never in his sermons say what he does not believe, allowance being made for the necessity of adapting his mode of expression to different audiences. It may be necessary to use different language in speaking to children or uneducated persons than one would use in communicating one's views to a philosopher; but the difference should never be more than a difference of language. A preacher must always speak the truth---the whole truth as far as one goes---and nothing but the truth. But the extent to which a clergyman is bound to proclaim the whole of his beliefs and his disbeliefs must, I should contend, depend very largely upon circumstances of time and place. Unless a clergyman shares enough of the beliefs of his congregation to be able to speak freely to them about what he and they would agree to be the vital matters of religion and morality, he is out of place as the minister of such a congregation. But there are many other matters on which it would, under certain circumstances, be impossible for him---impossible for any well-educated and reflecting clergyman---to speak all his thoughts without shocking beliefs which deserve some respect.

I feel strongly that it is the duty of the clergy to educate as well as to edify. I believe that to educated congregations it is desirable to speak much more plainly than is commonly done about ``Old Testament difficulties'', about ``inspiration'', about eschatology, about the true meaning of doctrines like the Atonement and the Incarnation. With congregations of working people in large towns, the necessity for plain speaking is almost as great, though it will be plain speaking of a rather different order. Even when the congregation is too mixed for much theoretical discussion of such subjects, it will generally be possible for a clergyman to indicate his way of looking at such things in a manner which will not shock or alarm the more conservative or more uninstructed elements of his congregation. It should be his aim to help and enlighten the doubting soul, without disturbing the faith of those who find no difficulties in their inherited creed, and are too old or too uninstructed to benefit by a larger measure of intellectual enlightenment. But to require every clergyman, before every congregation, to say his whole mind about all manner of critical and biblical questions---it is here, rather than in matters of ``doctrine'', that the practical difficulty is greatest---would be to make it impossible for educated and uneducated persons to worship in the same churches, or for an educated clergyman to minister to an uneducated congregation. The difficulty is not confined to those who might be styled ``extreme Broad Churchmen''. Such reserve as I hold to be justified is habitually practised---often more reserve than I can defend---by enlightened men of all parties. In church, intellectual enlightenment must surely be to some extent---less, no doubt, than is supposed---subordinated to practical considerations. That, to whatever extent is possible without much breaking up of congregations or unduly scandalizing of weak brethren (some ``scandal'' is inevitable and even desirable), theological plain speaking is an absolutely essential condition of useful preaching to thoughtful men, I very strongly hold. But there must be limits to such plain speaking,---not, indeed, to bona fide private inquirers, but before mixed audiences. In allowing the clergy to be silent on some matters before some people, we are only conceding to them what we concede to every one else. And it is not enough to say that other people do not profess to set up as theological teachers. Parents, lay schoolmasters, journalists, authors, are constantly being called upon to speak or write about religious or ecclesiastical matters, and yet a certain amount of ``reserve'' is allowed to all of them. Even in ordinary society nobody feels bound to blurt out his theological opinions in all companies whenever the talk runs upon theological or ecclesiastical topics. People are expected, or at least they ought to be expected (for in fact they are sometimes expected to lie), to reveal their real opinion in so far as they undertake to express it at all; but there are surely many matters upon which, from many considerations of expediency, they are rightly allowed to be silent or even evasive. The respect that is felt to be due to sincere religious conviction in persons of different religions or churches to one's own, may surely be claimed by people within our own religious communion who differ from us in less essential matters. In a vague and general way I hold it to be a duty to apply the results of criticism and reflection even to the most elementary religious teaching. Particularly, as it seems to me, should this be done in bringing up children who are not yet imbued with any fixed theological prejudices. It is, I believe, essential gradually to accustom the most illiterate to look upon the Old Testament in a totally different light to that in which it was regarded when even scholars could believe it to be true from beginning to end. But it does seem to me contrary to all common sense to say that when he preaches to a congregation of rustics---brought up to the most literal acceptance of every word of the Old and New Testaments---a clergyman is bound to point out to them in black and white all the miracles or other narratives which, on critical grounds which they would not understand, he himself doubts or disbelieves. If he thought it a matter of immediate religious importance that they should disbelieve these things, he would be bound, of course, to say so, or to retire from the pulpit in which he was not free to do so. He is at liberty to be silent precisely because he believes them to be of no direct religious importance whatever. At all events, if this principle is to be rejected, few well-educated clergymen under forty would remain. General consent has long ago, as I contend, removed the stigma of dishonesty from their conduct, and it is rapidly doing so for those who carry the same principle a little further than the majority. It may be important to add that the principle may claim to a very considerable extent the sanction of the courts, the authorized interpreters of the obligations imposed by law upon the clergy. No prosecution for heresy has succeeded in this country except that of Mr. Voysey. The opinions of Mr. Voysey, who has deliberately disavowed the name of ``Christian'', I quite admit to fall outside the limits of possible or desirable comprehension. But the decisions of the judicial Committee of the Privy Councils 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.

My argument is incomplete so long as it remains merely negative. The limits within which it is morally lawful for clergymen to diverge from the literal interpretation of the formulæ which they subscribe to or use must depend upon the importance of the ends which they serve by taking holy orders. And here I feel that it is quite impossible, within the limits at my command, to express all that I should like to say; nor could I well attempt such a task without entering upon theological questions to an extent which would be out of place in this JOURNAL. I must therefore be content with saying that I believe strongly that many elements in the traditional Christian belief will have to be very considerably modified,---not more so than they have already been modified several times over in the Church's history,---but I believe also that the religion of the future must still be Christian, and that, unless there is to be a general lowering of the spiritual level, so to speak, of human life, the Christianity of the future will be something in its essence much more like the Christianity of Athanasius than the Christianity of Socinus. Yet to make Christianity possible to men who have thoroughly appreciated the consequences of modern historical criticism, the process of restatement, reinterpretation, expansion, modification, and development is absolutely indispensable. I believe it to be absolutely essential to the highest spiritual interests of the world that it should go on. And it is a process which can go on only within the Churches, not outside them. It must be carried out in the main by clergymen (for it is from clergymen that the great bulk of religious people derive their theological ideas), and in England very largely by clergymen of the English Church. I do not mean to disparage the work that is being done---often much more thoroughly and more boldly---in the other orthodox denominations, but such work for the most part affects only the members of those denominations. I only mean that it cannot be done by drawing away members of the Church of England into any existing sect, or by the foundation of new and more or less unorthodox sects. Most men will not join such sects. They will become indifferent, ``non-practising'' members of the Church in which they were brought up, like the mass of educated French laymen. Moreover, to those who believe that the Church of Christ is something infinitely more than a society for the provision of sermons and services on Sundays,---that it is primarily a society for the promotion of the Christian ideal of life, and only secondarily ``an association of persons holding certain theological doctrines'',---no liberty of prophesying or of hearing, no increase of theological enlightenment, could compensate the spiritual and social loss of multiplied schism. The maintenance, the intensification of the Christian koinonía---the widest that is possible, the most united, and the most organized that is possible---is an essential part of their religion. In comparison with the importance of maintaining and extending it, the non-natural interpretation of a clause or two here and there in formularies with which they feel a general sympathy will seem to them a very small evil. The best that they hope for human society can only be realized by the increased activity, the increased co-operation, and the increased comprehensiveness of all Christian churches, and a fatal blow would be dealt to all such prospects if every new critical discovery is to be followed by a fresh schism. Their ideal would be a single united organization of ``all who profess and call themselves Christians''; failing that, the smallest possible amount of division and the largest possible amount of co-operation among the divided parties. Those who hold this view of the Church's mission will feel that nothing but the clearest of categorical imperatives ought to prevent persons otherwise attracted to the task from accepting or retaining the orders of the English Church. I have tried to show that, considering the wide latitude already existing and sanctioned by public opinion, by the courts of law, and by the authorities of the Church, such conduct (within some such limits as have been indicated) is not really inconsistent with the duties of veracity and good faith. That ``general understanding'' as to the limits of comprehension which Professor Sidgwick apparently denies appears to me to a very considerable extent to exist already, and it is daily becoming more explicit and more general. Even when particular applications of the principle may be denied, the principle is already admitted to such an extent that no one who feels himself in general sympathy with Christianity, as it is taught at the present day with general acceptance by the recognized exponents of Church of England theology, need hesitate to join them because on this or that detail he may carry his dissent from the traditional formula, or be conscious of carrying it one degree further than they. More liberal High Churchmen who object to such comprehension have already gone too far in the same direction to make their objections reasonable on the score of honesty, though they may naturally, from their own point of view, object to the presence of those upon whose opinions they themselves look with disfavor.

In conclusion, I do not wish to suggest that the present wide divergence between the accepted formulæ and the actual teaching of the more progressive section of the clergy is in itself a desirable state of things. I have not space to show why any attempt at revolutionary change would be impossible or undesirable, but I may just mention two points upon which reform might not be impracticable. It would probably, if the proposal emanated from the right quarter, be possible to induce both Parliament and the Convocations to alter the declaration of belief in the whole Bible at the Ordination of Deacons. And, while any attempt to change the actual doctrinal standards themselves could only produce disruption, it might not be impossible to secure some further change in the form of assenting to them. {Note}


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