Images de page

"Life brings to us daily questionings concerning the meaning of things; but the one question running through them all is: What do we mean to ourselves? The supreme problem of the world for us is: What is the ultimate meaning of the personal life?"

That this meaning is to be sought in the most comprehensive survey of facts is indicated in the very table of contents: The Earliest Signs of Meaning, Beginnings of Mind in Nature, Personal Dynamics, The Relation of Body and Mind, Development of Personality, Personal Individuality, The Fulfilment of Personal Life in Jesus Christ, The Creative Spirit of Christianity, The Future Personal Life, and Personal Realism. Here is a range of themes that arrests the attention of scientific students of personality, as well as that of the practical religious worker engaged in his attempts to train the human personality according to this, that, or the other criterion of religious values.

Dr. Smyth's aim, already suggested in the table of contents, is more specifically stated in these words:

"In the light of new knowledge of nature we are to seek anew to know ourselves. We are facts of nature amid other facts of nature, having our being in the one whole of existence, coming to ourselves in the relations of all the elements and influences that make the universe what it is. Our consciousness of being is set in the mold of nature, and modern science will have us interpret ourselves from the nature side. Such is the end to be pursued in the following pages. Our quest is to seek what natural signs, if any, of an ultimate meaning and worth of personal life may be discerned."

The aim thus clearly and frankly stated is to be realized through a method equally open-minded and fearless:

"The method to be followed is simple and easy to state, tho difficult to pursue; it is to accept every scientifically ascertained fact, and to ask of each in succession: Toward what does it point? Not what, taken by itself, does it prove? but what beyond itself, may it signify?"

With such an aim and such a method a man may hopefully face the facts of human existence in the light of our wonderful age of scientific research and discovery.

And what are the conclusions to be expected? Dr. Smyth's answers to this question are summarized in his final chapter on Personal Realism. These conclusions may thus be epitomized:

1. "Reality is existence independent of our idea of it. The idea of reality is itself subjection, a mental object presented in consciousness. But the idea is about existence that is not made by, nor does it cease with, our consciousness of it."


2. "Reality is experienced as The self as an object of our thought is immediately presented in the mind as active being, as an existent power of action."

be known. It exists for the knowers. It is

3. "Reality is existence as something to

out there in space for any passerby to see it. It passes by us as a succession in time for us to be aware of. In this sense our experience of reality is rightly said to be also a social act. It has real meaning to ourselves as we find it to have similar meaning to others."

4. "Reality is existence as a whole. There is one reality, or there is nothing. We do not know it by fractions of it if it were not an integer to be known in part by finite intelligence. The unity of the whole of being is given in our immediate experience of the unity of our personal being."

5. "Reality is existence as having worth. Something is, and it is for something. Reality as a whole has value; it is good that it is. All beings have some value in their relations to all others. The relative value of each is given in the supreme good of the whole. This character of worth, like the other qualities of existence, is assured in our partial individual experience of the worth of being. Persons live for some end, and they are something to one another. They are, as Kant would insist, ends in themselves. As such our social philosophy will add, they may also be means to one another. But their value as mutual means of life can not rise above its fountain in their worth as ends in themselves, and that in term is their participation in the worth of all being in general-in the goodness of the One Source and Unity of all beings."

As to the possibility of knowing this "One source and unity of all beings" and consciously adjusting our lives to him, the author has this to say:

1. "Man may know more of God as the sciences shall discover more and more the ruling ideas in the order of nature. Little by little, part by part, natural science is putting us in possession of the working plans of the universe."

2. "God may be better known through the making of history. The world we live in is not finished; all the known universe is still in the making."

3. "God may become more truly known through the further development of man's higher nature. That may become more spiritually receptive. This is true of the individual; his mind may gain more capacity of spiritual discernment; as his heart becomes more pure he may more clearly see God."

4. "Furthermore, at needed times and for epoch-making seasons, God may give to the world men chosen from their birth and called to be bearers of his purposes and revealers of his meanings to their fellow men. Such were the prophets of old; such have

been men of rare spiritual genius; such shall be in the coming years the chosen teachers, poets, and prophets in the divine education of the race."

Dr. Smyth's book thus presents the universal postulates of human personality; the means of achieving a selfconscious personality in individual life; the ways in which God, the final source of Good, may be increasingly known; and the aim, the method, and the means through which religious institutions may bring men, in general, into possession of personalities that shall appropriate the personal attributes of Christ. It is a work at once philosophical, and, in the highest degree, educational.


Professor GEORGE WARREN RICHARDS, D.D., Lancaster, Pa.

BORN about fifteen years before Luther or Zwingli (i.e., October 27, 1466), Erasmus played the part of reformer long before the one attacked the sale of indulgences or the other preached against the worship of the Virgin and the saints. He agreed with them in his purpose to purify the Church of errors and abuses and to restore the simple Christianity of the apostles; but he differed from them in his conception of the gospel and in his method of reform. For a time, therefore, he was in friendly correspondence with both Luther and Zwingli; but after the outbreak of the Peasants' War, the rise of the Anabaptists, and the violent attacks of Luther on pope and prince, Erasmus turned against them. He then considered their work an injury to good morals as well as to good letters.

Erasmus was a critic, a satirist, and a scholarly humanist, regarded on both sides of the Alps as easily the literary chief of Europe. In his biting satires and his stinging sarcasms he spared neither Church nor State. He

pays his respects to kings and to princes in the Adages, saying: "Scarcely in several generations will you find one or two princes whose folly has not inflicted the greatest misery on mankind." ... "Princes must be endured lest tyranny should give way to anarchy, and still greater evil." He had not discovered the happy medium of democracy, however much he chafed under the tyranny of monarchs. The pacifists of to-day will be gratified to hear him. say: "The justest war can hardly approve itself to any reasonable person.

. . The people build cities and the princes destroy them. Even victory brings men more ill than good."

In the Praise of Folly he attacks both pope and cardinal. "If the cardinals claim to be successors to the apostles, they should consider that the same things are required of them as their predecessors. So if the popes, being vicars of Christ, endeavored to emulate his life, his labors, his teachings, his cross, his contempt of the world, what more afflicted beings

[graphic][merged small]


BORN at Rotterdam, Holland, October 27, (probably) 1466; died at Basel, Switzerland, July 12, 1536. He was the son of one Gerhard, and Margaret, the daughter of a physician. Of illegitimate birth, he had no surname; and the name by which he is known, Desiderius Erasmus, is but the rendering in Latin and Greek of Gerhard ("the beloved"). He received the beginnings of his education at the schools of the Brothers of the Common Life, first at Bois-le-Duc, and later at Delft. Subsequently the bishop of Cambrai engaged him as his private secretary.

He was admitted to the priesthood and took the monastic vows at about the age of twenty-five, but there is no record that he ever exercised the priestly functions. Erasmus went to Paris supplied with funds by the bishop and studied at the College Montaigu. From this time on Erasmus led the life of an independent scholar, independent of country, of academic ties, of religious allegiance, of everything that could interfere with the free development of his intellect and the freedom of his literary expression. The chief centers of his activity were Paris, Louvain, England, and Basel; yet it could never be said that he was identified with any one of these. He held at Cambridge an honorable position as Lady Margaret professor of divinity. While in England Erasmus began the systematic examination of manuscripts of the New Testament to prepare for a new edition and Latin translation. This edition was published by Froben of Basel in 1516 and was the basis of most of the scientific study of the Bible during the Reformation period.

[ocr errors]

would there be on earth? .. Their wealth, their honors, their riches, and their pleasures would all be gone, and in their place would be studies, sermons, prayers, tears, vigils, fastings, and a thousand miserable labors of the same kind . . . the princes of the Church would be reduced to scrip and staff!"

The monks he exposes and lashes unmercifully, in a letter to his pupil Grey. And he had no patience with the theological speculations of the medieval schoolmen-Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. In the Praise of Folly he satirizes their scholastic vagaries:

"They explain hidden mysteries as they please; how the world was made and set in order; by what channel original sin was conveyed to posterity; in what ways, what measure, in how little time, it was perfected in the Virgin's womb, how in the Eucharist accidents exist without location. They spend their time on questions like the following: Does the category of time apply to the divine generation? Is there more than one relation of sonship in Christ? Could God be hypostatically united to woman, to the devil, an ass, a gourd, a flint, then how could a gourd have preached, worked miracles, have been crucified? thousand other flimsy substitutes there are concerning which these learned doctors will gravely deliberate."


He exposes the hollowness of those who substitute the observance of ceremonies for life in religion.

"What is more silly than the conduct of those who promise themselves felicity hereafter by repeating over and over again day by day seven versicles from the Sacred Psalms. So also those who propitiate saints devoted to particular functions of relief; this saint to relieve a toothache, another to help a birth, another to get back something stolen, to assist the shipwrecked, &c."

The purpose of his Enchiridion, a Christian's Handbook, was to "counteract the error of those who place piety in ceremonies and external observances, but neglect its very essence."

Thus, as a keen diagnostician, he discovered the ailments of the Church; he exposed the disease for which others found the remedy. Even in his

day men said: "Erasmus laid the egg which Luther hatched."

He became critic and satirist because he had found a simpler form of Christian truth and life than that of the Church of his time. He turned from the Schoolmen to the Fathers, from the Fathers to the apostles, from Paul to Jesus. "Christ," he said, "is nothing else than love, simplicity, patience, purity." He prepared a critical edition of the Greek text of the New Testament, published a new Latin translation and paraphrases of the gospels and epistles. His purpose was to enable men to find a purer religion in the original sources.

"Away with foolish prejudices," he cried, "that the Bible belongs not to the laity and must not be translated into the language of the people. I long that the husbandman should sing the Scriptures as he follows the plow; that the weaver should hum them to the tune of the shuttle; that the traveler should beguile with them the weariness of his journey."

By comparison he discovered the wide gap between the simple precepts of the Sermon on the Mount and the theological subtleties and the sacramental mysteries of his church. What was there in common between popes and bishops living in princely splendor and Galilean fishermen going about preaching the gospel with scrip and staff! Monastic piety was as far removed from the apostolic life as night from day. By showing men the contrast between the Christianity of Jesus and the Christianity of prelates and monks, he desired to arouse them to the urgency of reform; and by new knowledge and right reason he hoped to purify and transform the Church. so that it would be adapted to a new and an enlightened world.

Yet, with all his enthusiasm for the Bible as the rule of faith and conduct, Erasmus was not an evangelical reformer. He remained on the plane of Catholic moralism; and never rose to the plane of Lutheran and reformed

« PrécédentContinuer »