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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

Confined to the sphere of religion and private morality


life and death of Christ. And

what was thus directly presented to the heart and the imagination in an individual, was universalized in the writings of St. Paul and St. John: in other words, it was liberated from its peculiar national setting, and used as a key to the general moral history of man. The Messiah of the Jews was exalted into the Divine Logos, and the Cross became the symbol of an atonement and reconciliation between God and man, which has been made "before the foundation of the world," yet which has to be made again in every human life. The work of the first three centuries was to give to this idea such logical expression as was then possible, in the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. It is true that this idea of the unity of man with God was not immediately carried out to any of the consequences which might seem to be contained in it. It remained for a time a religion, and a religion only; it did not show itself to be the principle of a new social or political order of life. Rather it accepted the old order represented by the Roman Empire, and even consecrated it as "ordained of God," only demanding for itself that it should be allowed to purify the inner life of men. Such a separation of the things of Caesar and the things of God was then inevitable; for it is impossible that a new principle can ever be received simply and without alloy into minds, which are at the same time occupying themselves with its utmost practical or even theoretical consequences. In this sense there is great
truth in what Comte says about the value of the separation of the spiritual from the temporal authority. The power of directly realizing a new religious principle, just because it draws away attention from the principle itself to the details of its practical application, is likely to prevent that application being either effective or even a true expression of the principle. Such practical inferences cannot safely be drawn by direct logical deduction; they will be made with certainty and effect only by spirits which the principle has remoulded. The decided withdrawal of the Christian Church from the sphere of "practical politics" was, therefore, not merely a necessity forced upon it from without; it was a condition which its best members gladly accepted, because without it the inner transformation of man's life by the new doctrine would have been impossible. If Christianity had raised an insurrection of slaves, it never could have put an end to slavery.

But while this withdrawal was necessary, it contained a great danger; for the inner life cannot be separated from the outer life without becoming narrowed and distorted. Confined to the sphere of religion and private morality, the doctrine of unity and reconciliation necessarily became itself the source of a new dualism. What had been at first merely neglect of the world was gradually changed into hostility to worldly interests; and the germs of a positive morality, reconciling the flesh and the spirit--which appear in the New Testament--were neglected and overshadowed in the growth of asceticism. Christianity, even in its first expression, had a negative side towards the natural life of man; while it lifted man to God, it yet taught that humanity "cannot be quickened except it die." But the mediaeval Church, while it constantly taught that humanity in its desires and tendencies must die, had almost forgotten to hope that it could be quickened. Its highest morality--the morality of the three vows--was the negation of all social obligations; its science was the interpretation of a fixed dogma received on authority; its religion tended to become an external service, an _opus operatum_, a preparation for another world, rather than a principle of action in this. Its highest act of worship, the Eucharist, in which was celebrated the revealed unity of men with each other and with God, was reserved in its fulness for the clergy, and even with them was finally reduced to an external act by the doctrine of transubstantiation, in which poetry "became logic," and in becoming logic, ceased to be truth.


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