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A History of Freedom of Thought by J. B. Bury

Or accounts which can only be reconciled by conjecture


[204]

style="text-align: justify;">There were a few English clergymen (chiefly Oxford men) who were interested in German criticism and leaned to broad views, which to the Evangelicals and High Churchmen seemed indistinguishable from infidelity. We may call them the Broad Church--though the name did not come in till later. In 1855 Jowett (afterwards Master of Balliol) published an edition of some of St. Paul's Epistles, in which he showed the cloven hoof. It contained an annihilating criticism of the doctrine of the Atonement, an explicit rejection of original sin, and a rationalistic discussion of the question of God's existence. But this and some other unorthodox works of liberal theologians attracted little public attention, though their authors had to endure petty persecution. Five years later, Jowett and some other members of the small liberal group decided to defy the "abominable system of terrorism which prevents the statement of the plainest fact," and issued a volume of Essays and Reviews (1860) by seven writers of whom six were clergymen. The views advocated in these essays seem mild enough to-day, and many of them would be accepted by most well-educated clergymen, but at the time they produced a very painful impression. The authors were called the "Seven against Christ." It was

[205] laid down that the Bible is to be interpreted like any other book. "It is not a useful lesson for the young student to apply to Scripture principles which he

would hesitate to apply to other books; to make formal reconcilements of discrepancies which he would not think of reconciling in ordinary history; to divide simple words into double meanings; to adopt the fancies or conjectures of Fathers and Commentators as real knowledge." It is suggested that the Hebrew prophecies do not contain the element of prediction. Contradictory accounts, or accounts which can only be reconciled by conjecture, cannot possibly have been dictated by God. The discrepancies between the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, or between the accounts of the Resurrection, can be attributed "neither to any defect in our capacities nor to any reasonable presumption of a hidden wise design, nor to any partial spiritual endowments in the narrators." The orthodox arguments which lay stress on the assertion of witnesses as the supreme evidence of fact, in support of miraculous occurrences, are set aside on the ground that testimony is a blind guide and can avail nothing against reason and the strong grounds we have for believing in permanent order. It is argued that, under the Thirty-nine

[206] Articles, it is permissible to accept as "parable or poetry or legend" such stories as that of an ass speaking with a man's voice, of waters standing in a solid heap, of witches and a variety of apparitions, and to judge for ourselves of such questions as the personality of Satan or the primeval institution of the Sabbath. The whole spirit of this volume is perhaps expressed in the observation that if any one perceives "to how great an extent the origin itself of Christianity rests upon probable evidence, his principle will relieve him from many difficulties which might otherwise be very disturbing. For relations which may repose on doubtful grounds as matters of history, and, as history, be incapable of being ascertained or verified, may yet be equally suggestive of true ideas with facts absolutely certain"--that is, they may have a spiritual significance although they are historically false.


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