Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

progress. We pointed out to our readers in one of the earliest of this series of articles, that the light first dawned upon Europe by means of the establishment of schools by itinerant scholars, who brought with them the learning gained in the Moorish schools at Cordova, and elsewhere, in Mahometan Spain. We also pointed out how the Church, being unablc to stop the new movement, thercupon sought to make it her own, and how, out of this, the Schoolmen and scholastic philosophy grew up. The intellectual movement thus became restricted to the Universities and great seats of learning, and the common people remained in the same gross darkness and ignorance as before. Had this not been so the power of the Church of the Dark Ages would not have continued so long as it did. Now the brothers of the Common Life were the first to establish schools for the people, where the brothers not only provided education but also subsistence for the poorer students; we have a case in point in Thomas à Kempis himself, who, but for these brotherhoods, would have remained an ignorant mechanic; and, doubtless, there were thousands of others who through these received the means of knowledge, who otherwise would have remained in ignorance all their lives. The education of the common people was therefore one mighty service rendered by these brotherhoods to Germany, and by thus spreading light they must be looked upon as one of the efficient causes of the Reformation. They were the first, also, to introduce the use of the ordinary language of the people into the religious domain, and thus struck at the root of that power which the Church derived from surrounding its services with mystery, the mother of superstition, by using a language the people at large were incapable of understanding. The aid they incidentally rendered to the Reformation through the Mysticism which grew up among the brethren, has yet to be seen.

To them, too, was owing the growth of a new Theology, the character of which we shall look at hereafter, and which had much to do with the religious aspects of the Reformation. Throughout the fifteenth century these brotherhoods flourished, but towards the beginning of the sixteenth they began to decline. They declined because the age had outstripped them, had taken all they had to give. But in searching out the sources of the Reformation we should not forget that they did a necessary work, quietly and unostentatiously, but thoroughly, and with wide and permanent effect.

JAS. L. GOODING.

THE NATURE OF A MIRACLE.

FROM A LECTURE.

(Concluded from p. 160.) DEAN TRENCH, with some modifications, takes the same position. He says: A miracle does not prove the truth of a doctrine, or the divine mission of “him that brings it to pass. That which alone it claims for him at the first, is a

right to be listened to. It puts him in the alternative of being from heaven, or * from hell. The doctrine must first commend itself to the conscience as being

good, and only then can the miracle seal it as divine. But the first appeal is of the "doctrine to the conscience, to the moral nature in man; for all revelation pre

supposes in man a power of recognising the truth when it is shown him,--that “it will find an answer in him ; that he will trace in it the lineaments of a friend,

though of a friend from whom he has been long estranged, and whom he has well-nigh forgotton.'

." * The line drawn between the good and the Divine the conscience answering for the former and the miracle for the latter-is intended to be accepted as a sort of apology for the preceding concessions. It is the Dean, not the reasoner that draws it. For, obviously, the whole weight of the matter rests upon the conscience part of the transaction. And, although denying it, it is evident that the author was merely reasoning in a circle. The doctrines are called upon to bear witness to the miracles, and then the miracles are brought forward to support the doctrines. There is no thoroughly independent support, and, in fact, such support is not to be obtained.

* Trench on the Miracles.

But if when a miracle is wrought, in order to attest the truth of a declaration which has been made, we are compelled to fall back within ourselves to test by the power of Conscience and Reason the nature of the doctrine, and succeed in our attempt, nothing more can be needed. He who, through the proper course of study, has come to know that the square of twelve is 144, cannot be made to know it better by the descent of an angel from heaven. The latter opens a new question, which has no connection with the former. And if it be true, as all orthodox writers confess, that the working of great miracles will not justify those who see them in denying the existence of God, or anything else against reason, it must follow that, as Christian evidences, miracles have no value ; and that holds even when it is for argument sake conceded that all the events happened in the order, and according to the forms, set forth in the four gospels.

And it would be extraordinary if this were not the case. Although it may not be thus intended, it is certain that there can be no greater mockery of humanity than to inform a man, who knows anything of the wonders of creation, he must solve a supernatural problem before he can become certain of a moral or religious duty; which, in truth, is what they say who maintain the theory, that miracles are to be taken as Christian evidences. Practically they declare that a man must determine whether it was God or the devil who performed, or gave power to some person to perform, some particular work. If I saw a ship dashed to pieces it is evident that, supposing the event to have had a supernatural origin, it is not within my power to tell which of the two competent Powers did it. And, when we look at some of those which are called historical miracles, the same difficulty occurs. That, for instance, of the drowning of the Egyptians is open to two interpretations. Granting, for the moment, that it actually occurred, would not the Egyptians conclude that it was an Evil Power which had operated against them? Their learned men would have argued that it could not have been the work of God, because, had He designed to preserve the Hebrews, He could have gained His end without destroying their pursuers. And if the prophets of both nations bad come together to decide the question by means of argument, in what way would they have proceeded ? No demonstration could be furnished, there could only be Opinion, and, in that case, it is absurd to suppose that actual blame attaches to error. Fortunately, the moral government of this world is carried on upon nobler principles, and the deeper laws do not plunge humanity into such profound abysses of negation. We are rendered capable of discriminating between right and wrong, abstractly considered, without reference to decisions between supernatural powers; and, if we are but candid enough with ourselves to acknowledge that fact, much of the presumed mystery and obscurity of religion will become clear as the noon-day sun, and we shall confess that it was from our fancy, not from the order of Nature, that they had their origin.

It has been frequently declared that miracles are impossible, but more frequently that it is impossible to prove them. With all its faults, the latter is a far more reasonable assertion than the former, as, undoubtedly, it is the more modest to be delivered as an opinion. He who says that miracles are impossible must mean that the order of Nature cannot either be suspended or changed ; which is far too bold a statement for any one to make, who is at all conscious of the wonderful phenomena of life, or who has closely read the stone tablets of geological history:' I believe that miracles are possible, because of finding myself capable of conceiving of their being wrought. Neither does it lie within the compass of human reas

asoning to demonstrate their impossibility. Shall we presume, without having comprehended Nature in all her manifold forms and modes of being, to lay down a positive line which cannot be crossed? I do not understand the whole, and, consequently, I dare not pretend to limit it. There are heights and depths of being and action which hitherto have not been explored-shall we venture upon dogmatising in relation to them ? And, if that would be unwise, how much more so would it be were we to fix limits to confine the sphere of Divine operation ? Far be it from me either to descend to that folly, or to mount to that presumption. I can recognize the conceivability, and, hence, the possibility, of miracles; but, while doing so, I also maintain that, previous to declaring any particular event to be miraculous, it is necessary to comprehend the history and form of the event in all its details.

At the first blush this latter seems to be a mere truism, for who will say any other than that we are bound to make ourselves sure about the historical correctness of the narratives in which we solicit mankind to believe ? At least, this is stoutly maintained by every Christian author who has applied himself to study the miracles of Hindostan. It is, of course, known to my hearers that the Hindu religious authorities are particularly clever in arguing for the general acceptance of their Sacred Books, with all the rites and ceremonies they inculcate, and this upon the assumption that the "mighty miracles" recorded in them are veritable accounts of events which occurred in the order and form of their narration. And, assuredly, if the miracles imputed to Rama, and Vishnu, and other Divine personages, who are believed by the Hindus to have appeared in the human form, were performed by them, it will be difficult to induce men to believe otherwise than that the Hindu form of faith is worthy of universal acceptance. This will not be denied by any orthodox man; and hence it comes that all who touch upon the subject take the high ground of denying that there is any truth in the narratives. And, when the natives object to that destructive mode of proceeding, they are advised, and rightly so, to be particularly careful in examining both into the historical credibility of the books in which the said events are recorded, and then into the nature of the occurrences, before undertaking to pronounce them-as miracles-worthy of the general assent. There is a great deal of candour exhibited by those authors when dissecting the narratives, and, although the natives are displeased, there can be no doubt that the criticism is both honest and destructive. But the same method must be applied when other than Hindu miracles are brought into question. With whatsoever measure we mete unto men, with the same shall it be measured unto ourselves. Lying balances are hateful, no matter whether it be sugar or truth we are weighing. And, if it be demanded of the Hindu that he shall submit the history of the miracles in which he believes to the most searching scrutiny, it cannot be contended that he is not to do the same by those in which we ask him to place confidence. He demands, and we are bound, as searchers after truth, to concede, the point. Once refuse it, and the decision will be tantamount to saying, that we measure the faith of other men by a severer standard than we allow them to apply to our own.

With shame be it confessed that such is the course of conduct pursued by our Christian leaders and apologists; for they will not tolerate that the same severe method of criticism shall be applied to the Biblical miracles, or unto those of the “New Testament." The men who have been so intensely hated, and bitterly denounced, because of their Freethought comments upon them, have done no more, have used no other weapons than those employed by the Christian teachers when dealing with Hindu and Mahometan believers. From the days of Julian down to those of Chubb and Toland, and then, again, down to the days of Strauss and Parker, no other course has been pursued by the Freethought critics than that of carefully examining the history of the records, and the nature of the events recorded, so as to discover if they are worthy of credit; and then, when it was found to be impossible to refute their arguments, or to furnish (ther evidence in support of the popular belief than that which they had examined, recourse was had to invective and slander in order to destroy their influence. Precisely the same course which the Hindu pursues, in order to prevent the Christian missionary from gaining the attention of his countrymen, has been pursued by Christian apologists when dealing with those who employed the same arguments at home, But, whatever may be the amount of injustice such men in their blindness are ready to deal out to us, it is obviously our duty to bear and conquer it. Either we must do so, and go on to search after the truth; or we shall fall into the Hindu condition of believing without reason, and of assenting without having inquired into the nature of the evidence. There is no middle course for our choice; and, if I am anxious in insisting upon the necessity of examination, it is simply because of feeling its high importance, and how necessary it is to avoid the difficulties which lie in the path of true religion.

But be it remembered that I no more doubt the possibility of miracles, than I doubt of my own existence. That is, of course, understanding a miracle to involve a change in the course of Nature, or the immediate violation of its laws. It has been urged that, if the sun stood still, the consequences would be fatal to the entire universe. It would be so if no sustaining power were interposed, but I am not prepared to assume that the Divine power would fail in preventing such a catastrophe. Say that He orders such a suspension of action, it is not difficult to conceive that He may secure obedience to His command without infringing upon the integrity of the course of other planets and suns. I believe in the possibility of His doing so, and, therefore, find no difficulty in conceiving it. But it is quite another thing to believe that it has been done. A man has a friend whom he loves as the apple of his eye, and in whose integrity he places unbounded confidence. Is it impossible for him to be deceived? Does it not lie within the range of conceivable events that the supposed friend may turn out to be a deadly enemy? It is suggested to the confiding man that he in whom he places such implicit trust has deceived him, and he immediately demands the proof. Confessing that such a thing is possible, although, as he believes, highly improbable, he demands evidence such as will convince him of the duplicity. And so with the miracle of the sun standing still

, the physical possibility is to be conceded, but the historical credibility remains to be established. I do not accept the Joshua miracle, simply because the latter condition has not been complied with.

But that miracles, in the sense of violations of the laws of Nature, have been wrought, we have evidence. There was a time when neither animal nor vegetable life was known upon our planet, when, through the intense heat, neither could have existed. This fact will not be questioned by any who are at all familiar with the physical history of the earth, as it has been revealed to us by the geologists. And, being admitted, it will follow that the order of Nature was interfered with, when those new forms were introduced. And, if it be contended that each stage in the geological process involved the introduction of a new order of beings, then, in each case, the order of Nature was interfered with, and a miracle was wrought. But in what way wrought who can tell ? Indeed it is best to get rid of the term “miracle” altogether, because it presupposes us to possess a certain amount of actual knowledge in relation to the subject, which, in truth, we have not. All that we can know is that the order of Nature was, in some way, suspended, or interfered with. And we know this upon the best of evidence, as well, also, that the changes were worthy of the Worker. "But where are we to find similar evidence in favour of the historical miracles, Hindu or Christian? We admit, for argument sake, the possibility of all which has been suggested by their apologists, but deny the probability; and, before changing our position, we expect to be supplied with evidence shewing that those histories are credible in which the wonderful events have been recorded, and shewing also that there was some reasonable and sufficient motive for, some great and worthy end to be achieved by, the events themselves.

LONDON : PUBLISHED BY M. PATTIE, 81, PATERNOSTER Row, AND GEORGE

GLAISHER, 470, New OXFORD STREET.
Printed by W. Ostell, Hart-street, Bloomsbury.

THE PATHFINDER,

A JOURNAL OF

PURE THEISM AND RELIGIOUS FREETHOUGHT,

THE ORGAN OF INDEPENDENT RELIGIOUS REFORM,

CONDUCTED BY P. W. PERFITT.

New series, No. 38.] SEPTEMBER 21, 1861.

[Price 20.

OUT OF THE CLOUD;
OR, AN ENGLISH RECTOR IN SEARCH OF À CREED.

A TALE; BY P. W. P.

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE EARLY MUTTERINGS OF THE STORM. SO MUCA has already been written about the varied and exquisite scenery of North Devon, that by the observing tourist, who appreciates the value of time, and understands vexation of spirit, nothing remains to be said. Why should the modern reader, who cannot find time for perusing the books that ought to be read, be called upon to make his way through minute details which he has read before, or why be taxed with fresh descriptions of Exmoor, Dartmoor, or the glorious scenes presented by the bays and sauny iulets of the coast line, when, in above a hundred books, every nook and cavern, every bay and headland, has been described in words many of which are worthy of their theme ? Far be it from us to be guilty of such an act of folly, and yet how is it possible now that, in the course of our tale, we are returning to the fortunes of the long-neglected betrothed of Lester, the beautiful Mary, to avoid dropping a few hints about the scenery around the village in which, with her invalid aunt, she had taken up her residence ?

The medical advisers of Mrs. Durton had unanimously agreed that the only chance of her restoration to health lay in her removal from the home in which a thousand objects constantly brought to mind the memory of those dear ones who, in their bours of exuberant joy, bad so suddenly found a watery grave at the mouth of the Tavey. In obedience to their advice, the invalid, and her constant attendant, took lodgings in the large and neat village of Mattacombe, where both inland and marine scenery could be readily reached, and no finer specimens of either were to be met with in England.

All around, whether in the fields or upon the downs, the ridges of rock burst through the soil, just as if Mother Nature were desirous of letting her children see something of the nature of her ribs and joints. Sweeping far away inland was a glorious succession of broad platforms of velvet green, upon VoL, VI. NEW SERIES, VOL. II.

N

« AnteriorContinuar »