« PrécédentContinuer »
such thoughts as these should ever at any future day approve themselves to him, we shall rejoice at the recovery of a person to utility and just influence, who could only have lost them by the pardonable causes of a mistaken zeal, and an unmanageable profundity.
We cannot, however, conclude this article without a slight notice of one particular claim put forward by Mr. Maurice in this controversy. For the truth of the interpretation of the word 'eternal' which he has put forward, Mr. Maurice appeals to certain grounds of metaphysics, and to Scripture thus metaphysically interpreted; but his liberty as a Church of England teacher, to inculcate this doctrine, he rests upon the ground that the formularies of the English Church nowhere condemn that sense of the word 'eternal' which he adopts, or impose that sense of the word which he opposes; that they use the word without marking the particular sense which is to be given to it, and therefore are to be understood as leaving it open to any person to attach this or the other meaning to it as he pleases, and to teach the doctrine of an eternal' state of reward and punishment in his own sense of that word.
I therefore pledged myself implicitly in my Essays, I pledge myself explicitly now, that I will not, God being my helper, give up my liberty as a member of the Church of England by accepting any new Formulary on this subject, or new explanation of the Formularies which I have accepted. To these I adhere, in what I believe to be their literal natural sense.'Letter of Mr. Maurice in Dr. Jelf's Pamphlet, p. 21.
The general notion which you encourage-that the King's College Council may demand of its professors an assent to a number of et cæteras not included in the Formularies to which, as churchmen and clergymen, they have set their hand-is one for which I own I was not prepared. It will alarm, I believe, many persons who differ very widely with me. I do not see how it can fail to alarm every man who attaches any sacredness to his oaths or his subscriptions.
On this point I must insist very strongly. I said in a former letter that I accepted the words of our Formularies and of the Scriptures in what seemed to me their literal and simple sense, but that I would accept no new interpretation of them. In noticing this remark, you have availed yourself, of course unintentionally, of the equivocal force of the adjective "new." You say, "I wish for no new Articles nor any new interpretations of our Formularies," meaning that your interpretation is the old one. But I submit that everything is new to the subscriber of a Formulary which is not contained in that Formulary at the time he subscribes it, however old or familiar it may be.'-Mr. Maurice's Answer to Dr. Jelf, p. 3.
The ground advanced here is a general ground, that whatever the formularies of the Church do not expressly and by word enjoin, is to be considered as open; and that a man is bound by nothing but that which has been nominatira and specifically put before him for his assent.
But such a ground, we must say, appears to us obviously untenable, contrary to common sense and common equity, and fatal to any Church that should allow or connive at it. It is obvious that when a Church constructs formularies, and lays down articles of faith, it cannot possibly stop at every word to assign the exact meaning in which it is used. To do so, were it possible, would be to defeat the very object for which alone it could be done, that, viz. of accuracy and clearness; to bury the whole formulary underneath an accumulation of definition and a load of words, which would simply perplex, harass, and overwhelm any reader. The articles, as they stand now, are not easy reading; but were they constructed on the explanatory principle just mentioned, the case would be desperateno reader of human powers could extricate himself out of such a labyrinth of language as would surround him: once in, he could never emerge to light again, by any rational clue, but simply by cutting the knot in the Gordian way, and creating a meaning of his own. But in truth such explanation would be impossible. The compilers of formularies could not interpose to explain words which admitted of no explanation; words of which the meaning has been taken for granted in all ages, and to which all mankind have instinctively annexed one and one only idea, and that one which cannot be defined and analysed. How could one possibly expect that when, in the course of constructing the formularies of the English Church, the compilers came across the word 'eternal,' they should affix a parenthesis to explain what the word 'eternal' meant? What had they to say about it? What could it mean but that which all mankind has always supposed it to mean? Nobody wanted an explanation; nobody could give one, if it was wanted; and nobody could understand one if it was given.
But if it is impossible that the Church should stop to explain every word of her formularies as she constructed them, what is the immediate inference from such a state of the case? Clearly that we are bound to something more than the express and specific terms as such, the pure naked words of such formularies; viz. to the natural, commonly received, established meaning in which such terms were used; the meaning in which the Church has ever understood them, and in which therefore she imposes them. The impossibility of explanation demands as its correlative this attention and deference to those established and received meanings; allowance must be made for insuperable obstacles; and the necessities of the imponens turn to obligations in the subscriber. And though in smaller and secondary matters, where no strong intention of the Church can be supposed, and in doubtful matters where its intention cannot be certified to,
every reasonable latitude must be allowed to subscribers, and the authoritativeness of received meanings not be made a minute, frivolous, and burdensome one; in important and vital articles of Christian teaching the established and received meanings of terms must be considered binding. The intention of the Church must be considered to be represented by the meaning which has been always given in the Church to the term; and the subscriber is bound by the intention of the Church.
To say then, as Mr. Maurice does, that because the meaning of the word 'eternal' is not laid down in our formularies, its meaning is to be considered open, and that the most contradictory to the received one is to be allowed, and its inculcation by teachers in the Church not hindered, is to treat the Church in a way which is alike repugnant to common sense and common equity to common sense, because the explanation of such words is not to be expected; to common equity, because it is taking unfair advantage of such an absence of explanation. It is to approach the formularies of a Church in a spirit in which the merest lawyer would not approach a legal document, such as a contract or a will. In every document certain received meanings of terms must be taken for granted; nor are men allowed for an instant, in the interpretation of such documents, to assign some ingenious reason why the received sense of any of the terms employed is incorrect, and on that ground refuse to take the term in the received sense. Were such a system of interpretation allowed in secular matters, there would be an end at once to all good faith and stability in the dealings of man and man. And why should we treat the Church with less tenderness than we treat the world? A fair claim has generally been made for some generosity to the Church, as no ordinary bargainer; but this is to deprive her even of rigid justice. It is to approach the formularies of the Church in a temper of ultralegality; in the way in which a narrow lawyer applies himself to a hostile legal document, which he is determined to reduce to the very lowest and most necessary meaning in which it can be understood, and to get rid of that even if he can. We cannot but wonder that a man of Mr. Maurice's ordinary generosity should have adopted such a ground: that he should approach the formularies of the Church to which he belongs with the determination to defer to nothing but the absolute naked terms to which he cannot deny he has subscribed; and that, if the Church has not laid down expressly a certain meaning of a certain term, to suppose that he has a right to take advantage of the omission, though the whole world knows that the Church, in using the term, had a certain meaning and no other.
On such a system of interpretation as this, there is not the
simplest and plainest article in the creed that might not be explained away. Let us take the very first article in the Apostles' creed-'I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.' Here is expressed the elementary article of religion, that God is the Creator of the world. But a questioner may say, What does that term "Maker" or Creator mean? the Church does not express in what sense she ' uses this term. I shall therefore take the liberty of understanding this term to mean, not creating absolutely, but creating 'out of a certain primary unformed matter. For though I 'grant that the fair sense of the word create is to create out of 'nothing, its sense is still open, because it is not determined
what nothing is. I shall therefore suppose, that by nothing is 'meant primary unformed matter or chaos; and that when the Church says that God created the world, or made it out of ' nothing, she leaves it open whether He made it out of nothing in the popular sense of the word, or out of nothing in the sense ' of unformed matter. I shall therefore maintain, as consistent ' with this article of the Apostles' creed, the eternity of matter; 'which I do not believe was made by God, but has co-existed 'always with Him.'
Are we trifling with Mr. Maurice and the reader in supposing such an argument? By no means. The specimen of interpretation of language here given is no invention of our own. Plato called all matter Tò un ov, or nothing; the later Platonists confined this term to the primary formless matter of which the world was made; still that which ordinary men would consider something, was called by this name. And this disguise of something, under the term nothing,' has been carried on by modern philosophers, who were thus enabled, under the outside of an article of the Christian creed, to hold a platonic origin of the world, and to believe in God as the maker of heaven and earth,' and the eternity of matter at the same time. We quote from Mosheim :
Among modern philosophers, Robert Fludd, and many others, who have admired and endeavoured to propagate Plato's sentiments, have chosen to imitate the fashion of the Platonists, and to call matter nothing; which they seem to do for this reason among others, that it may not be known how far their doctrine respecting the origin of nature differs from that universally received in the Christian Church. For though they make use of Christian expressions in speaking of the commencement of the universe, and like ourselves say that all things were produced out of nothing, yet they do not attach the same meaning as we do to the words, and by the word nothing they only intend a rude and shapeless kind of matter, which they will have to be a second principle of all things. These unfair interpretations have been well exposed among others by Peter
Gassendi, whose words are worth quoting" As respects creation," says he, "must not be understood a production of something out of nothing, in the same sense as the Mosaic creation of the universe is commonly intended by divines. For though Fludd makes use of both the words and the narrative of Moses, yet he uses all these in a symbolical manner. By the word creation, therefore, he understands in the first place the production or generation of anything which is said to be made out of obscurity, or matter, which by him is called nothing."'-Mosheim's Dissertation, annexed to Cudworth, c. 5.
One would have thought beforehand that the meaning of the word nothing' was sufficiently clear, and afforded but little room for division of opinion. It is a word which has very decidedly its received and established meaning. Yet here we see another and more recondite sense assigned to the word, and upon the basis of that new signification, a doctrine of creation founded, which introduces, underneath the unchanged language of the Apostles' creed, a pagan deity-a being who divides with primordial matter the empire of the universe. Dualism, Manicheanism, and the basest religions, that strike at the very root of the true doctrine of a God, insinuate themselves upon the strength of a certain meaning of the term creation, different from its popular and received meaning. But would such an idea of the Deity be allowed to be taught in our lecture-rooms and pulpits? Or would not the orthodox feeling of the Christian body at once reject it, and maintain the received meaning of the word create,' however unexpressed, as one which was supposed by the Church in framing the article, and only not expressed, because no other meaning was contemplated as capable of being held by Christians? And has not the word eternal' its thoroughly received and popular sense, as much as the word 'create' has?
Again, the Church has no expressed doctrine on the subject of inspiration. This is a most important and serious subjectthe more so, because we cannot introduce it merely as an illustration of a principle, as we did the preceding instance, being quite aware that it is a question which is at this moment exciting deep thought, and which may before long come out in controversial shape. We are not going to discuss it thus incidentally at the end of an article; but we may at the same time be allowed to state what will not be disputed; and that is quite enough for our present purpose as regards the general question of subscription.
The Church implies, then, but makes no explicit assertion of the inspiration of Scripture. It is supposed that Scripture is inspired, because infallibility can only come from inspiration, and Scripture is infallible; any article of belief that can be proved