THE CHURCH

Οὐ πᾶς ὁ λέγων μοι Κύριε, Κύριε, εἰσελεύσεται εἰς
τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν· ἀλλ᾽ ὁ ποιῶν τὸ θέλημα τοῦ
πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν τοῖς οῦρανοῖς.–Ὁ ΣΩΤΗΡ.

MAN is characteristically a religious animal; in fact, as Socrates
teaches, the only religious animal;[13] for, though a dog has no doubt
reverential emotions, it cannot be said with any propriety that he has
religious ideas or ecclesiastical institutions, for a very good reason,
because he has no ideas at all: observation he has very keen, and memory
also wonderfully retentive; instincts also, like all primal vital
forces, divine and miraculous; but ideas certainly none, for ideas mean
knowledge; and brutes that have no language properly so called that is a
system of significant vocal signs expressive of ideas, but only cries,
gesticulations, and visible or audible signs expressive of sensations
and feelings, can by no law of natural analogy be credited with the
possession of a faculty of which they give no manifestation. Language is
the outward body and form of which thought and reason and knowledge and
ideas are the inward soul and force; and hence the wise Greeks, unlike
our modern scientists, who delight in confounding man with the monkey,
expressed language and reason with one word λόγος, while what we
dignify with the name of language in birds and other animals was simply
φωνή, or significant voice. If, therefore, there is any thing most
human that history has to teach, it must be about religion. All the
great nations whose names mark the march of human fates have been
religious nations. A people without religion does not exist, or, if it
does exist, it exists only as an abnormal and deficient specimen of the
genus to which it belongs, which is of no more account in the just
estimate of the type than a fox without a tail, or a lawyer without a
tongue; and as for individual atheists, who have been talked about in
ancient times, and specially in these latter days, they are either
philosophers like Spinoza, the most pious of men, falsely baptized with
an odious title from the stupidity, prejudice, or malice of the
community, or, if they really are atheists, they are monsters which a
man may stare at as at an ass with three heads or with no head at all in
a show.

The form in which religion generally presents itself in early history is
what we commonly call Polytheism, though it is quite possible–a
matter about which I am not careful curiously to dogmatise–that
there may have been in some places an original Dualism, like the ancient
Persian, or even a Monotheism, out of which the Polytheism was
developed. For there cannot be the slightest doubt that, whatever may
have been the starting-point, there lay in the popular theology a
tendency to multiply and to reproduce itself in kindred but not always
easily recognisable forms, like the children of a family or the
cousinship of a clan. But, taking Polytheism as the type under which
history presents the objects of religious faith in the earliest times,
we have to remark that under this common name, as in the case of
Christianity, the greatest contrasts, both in speculative idea and in
social efficiency, stare us everywhere in the face. In the eye of the
Christian or the monotheistic devotee the worships of Aphrodite and of
Pallas Athene are equally idolatrous; but, allowing that these
anthropomorphic forms of divine forces and functions of the universe are
equally destitute of a foundation in fact or reason, the reverence paid
to them by a devout people might be as different as passion is from
thought, and sense from spirit. As the ideal of wisdom in counsel and in
action, the Athenian Pallas no doubt exercised as beneficent a sway over
her Hellenic worshippers as the ideal of Christian womanhood, in the
person of the Virgin Mary, does at the present day over millions of
Christian worshippers. It is only when the cosmic function impersonated
in the polytheistic god, being of an inferior order, leaps from its
proper position of subordination and usurps the controlling and
regulating action belonging to the superior function, that polytheistic
idolatry becomes immoral; though, of course, the very facility of this
usurpation, and the stamp of a pseudo divinity that may thereby be given
to beastly vice, is a sufficient reason for the denunciations of the
heathen idolatries so frequent in the Old Testament, which ultimately
ripened into the spiritual apostleship and monotheistic aggression of
St. Paul. One other striking feature of all polytheistic religions may
not be omitted. They are naturally complete–more catholic, more
sympathetic with universal nature and universal life than monotheistic
religions; if they make a philosophical mistake in worshipping many
gods, they do not make a moral mistake in excluding any of his
attributes. With the polytheistic worshipper everything is sacred: the
sun and the sea and the sky, dark earth and awful night, excite in him
an emotion of reverence. If the Greek polytheist was devout at all, he
was devout everywhere; whereas, under monotheistic influences, there is
a danger that devout feelings may respond exclusively to the stern
decrees of an absolute lawgiver and the awful threatenings of a violated
law. Polytheistic piety, whatever its defects, was always ready to add a
grace to every innocent enjoyment; monotheistic religiousness, as we see
its severe features in some modern churches, contents itself with adding
a solemn sanction to the moral law–a severity which here and there
has not been able to keep itself free from the unlovely phase of
regarding the innocent enjoyments and the graceful pleasantries of life
as a sin.

So much for the soul of the business; the body is what we call the
Church. And here the very word is significant. In one sense, as a
separate ethical corporation, the ancients had no Church. Why? Because
Church and State were one; or, if they were two, they were too like the
famous Siamese twins that used to be carried about the country as a
show, two so closely connected that they could no more be torn from one
another and live than the limpet can be separated from the rock to which
it clings. With the peoples of the ancient world the State was the
Church and the Church was the State; the priest was a magistrate and the
magistrate was a priest. This identity of two things, or loose
intercommunion and fusion of two things in modern association so
instinctively kept apart, arose from the common germ out of which both
Church and State grew–viz., as we saw in the previous lecture, the
FAMILY. Every father of a family, in the normal and healthy state of
society, is his own priest as well as his own king. In religion and
morals, as well as in all domestic ordinances, he is absolute and
supreme; and the functions which necessarily belonged to him as supreme
administrator in his own family would, under the influence of family
feelings, naturally be conceded to him when the family grew to a clan,
and the clan to a kingdom. And this is the state of things which we meet
with in the Book of Genesis, long before the promulgation of the Mosaic
law, where we read (xiv. 18) that Melchizedek, _king_ of Salem,
went out to bless Abraham, and he was _priest_ of the Most High
God; the distinction between priest and layman, to which our ears are so
familiar, being in this, as in a thousand other well-known instances,
altogether ignored. Not only in Homer, where we find Agamemnon, the king
of men, performing sacrificial functions without even the presence of a
priest,[14] but in the sober historical age we find the King of Sparta
performing all the public sacrifices–being, in fact, in virtue of
his office, high priest of Jove.[15] So closely indeed was the State
religion identified with the person of the supreme magistrate that, when
the kingship was abolished in Greece, and three principal archons and
seven secondary ones shared his functions, one still retained the title
of βασιλεύς, _king_, and had the supervision, or, as we
would say, supreme episcopacy and overseership of all matters pertaining
to religion.[16] The same thing took place in Rome, where the name of
king was even more odious than in Greece; but nevertheless a _rex
sacrificulus_, or _king-sacrificer_, with his _regina_ or
_queen_, took rank in all the public pontifical dinners above the
_pontifex maximus_ himself. The college of pontiffs in Rome, which
had the supreme direction of all religious matters, was not a board of
priests, but of laymen–or at least of laymen who, without any
qualification but some inaugurating ceremony, might be assumed into the
pontifical college; whence the title of _pontifex maximus_, which
the emperors assumed, was no more of the nature of a usurpation than the
title of _imperator_, which belonged to them as supreme commanders
of the army. Who, then, were the priests, and what need of them, at all
if the laity might legally perform all their functions? The answer is
simple. Both in Greece and Rome there were priests and priestly
families, as the _Eumolpidæ_ in Eleusis, specially dedicated to
the service of certain local gods; but there was no order, class, or
body of persons having the exclusive right to officiate in sacred
matters over the whole community. No doubt the social position of
priests in democratic Greece and monarchical Egypt was extremely
different, but in one respect they were identical: in Athens Church and
State were one as much as in Memphis. In Egypt there was a remarkably
strong body or clan of priests enjoying the highest dignities and
immunities; but there is no proof that they were a caste, in the strict
sense of the word; and their virtues were so far from being
incommunicable that, when the Pharaoh did not happen to be a born
priest, but of the military class, he was obliged to be made a priest
before he could be a king; and when once king he became _ipso
facto_ the high priest of the nation, and took precedence of all
priests in all great public acts of religious ceremonial. It must not be
supposed, however, that, though he was supreme in all sacred matters and
the actual head of the Church, to use our language, he could set
himself, like our Henry VIII., to carve creeds for the people, and
imprison or burn devout persons for refusing to acknowledge his
arbitrary decrees. The exercise of sacred functions in the hands of the
masterful Tudor and his Machiavelian minister was a usurpation tolerated
by a loyal people as their readiest and most effective way of getting
rid of the masterdom of the Roman Pope, which in those days pressed like
an incubus on the European conscience; it was invoking one devil to turn
out another, and was successful, as such operations are wont to be, in a
blundering sort of way. But the worshipful “Sons of the
Sun”–for so they were betitled–on the banks of the
sweet-watered Nile, had no monstrous pretension of this kind, and could
not even have dreamt of it. They did not sit on the throne to reform
religion, but to maintain it. Neither in Egypt nor in Greece in those
days was any such thing known as the rights of the individual
conscience; but both kings and people received religious laws and
consuetudes as we do _Magna Charta_; reasonable people, in the long
course of the centuries before Christ, would no more dream of disturbing
the ancestral belief about the gods than they would think of influencing
the settled courses of the stars. It was their very deep-rooted
permanency, in the midst of the startling mutabilities to which human
affairs are liable, that made the fundamental truths of religion so
valuable to their souls; and as to the particular forms under which
these fundamental truths might have been symbolised by venerable
tradition, the people were not given to form themselves into hostile
camps on the ground of any local difference, as we do in Scotland about
ecclesiastical conceits and crotchets; and every devout Egyptian allowed
his neighbour without offence to pay sacred honours to a crocodile or a
cat, convinced that these honours were equally legitimate and equally
beneficial whenever the sacred symbolism peculiar to the worship was
wisely understood. Collisions, therefore, between Church and State, or
between priesthood and kingship, such as signalised the medieval
struggles of the Popes and Emperors, and the convulsions of our infant
Protestant freedom in England, could not take place amongst the ancient
polytheists. A wise Socrates was equally willing with the most
superstitious devotee, when pious gratitude called, to sacrifice a cock
to Æsculapius; and the νόμῳ πόλεως, by the custom of the
State, was the direction which he gave to all who inquired of him by
what rites they ought to worship the gods.[17] Only amongst the Hebrews,
as a people in whose religious habitude polytheistic and monotheistic
tendencies had never come to any decisive settlement of their inherent
antagonism, do I find a record of a very serious collision between
Church and State, after the fashion of our German Henries and
Transalpine Hildebrands in the days of Papal aggression. Scotsmen
familiar with their Bibles will easily see that I allude to the case of
Uzziah, as recorded in 2 Chron. xxvi. 16-20:–“But when he
was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he
transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the
Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest
went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, that were
valiant men: And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It
appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but
to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense:
go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be
for thine honour from the Lord God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a
censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the
priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in
the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar. And Azariah the
chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was
leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea,
himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.”

So much for Polytheism. That it should have served the spiritual needs
of the human heart so long–five thousand years at least, from the
first Pharaoh that looked down from his Memphian pyramid on the mystic
form of the Sphinx, to the last Roman Emperor that sacrificed white
bulls from Clitumnus at the altar of the Capitoline Jove–is proof
sufficient that, with all its faults, it was made of very serviceable
stuff; but creeds and kingdoms, like individuals, must die. At the
commencement of the eighth century of the Roman Republic heathenism was
doomed in all Romanised Europe, in all Northern Africa, and in Western
Asia, and that for four reasons. The polytheistic religions of the Old
World, created as they were in the infancy of society, no doubt under
the guidance of a healthy instinct of dependence on the ruling power of
the universe, but in the main inspired by the emotions and formulated by
the imagination, without the regulating control of reason, could not
hope to hold their ground permanently in the face of that rich growth of
individual speculation which, from the sixth century before Christ,
spread with such ample ramification from Asiatic and European Greece
over the greater part of the civilised world. If it was a necessity of
human beings at all times to have a religion, it was a no less urgent
problem, as the range of vision enlarged with the process of the ages,
to harmonise their theology with their thinking. And if, on the
intellectual side, the polytheistic religions of that cultivated age
were threatened with a collapse, the sensuous element, always strongly
represented in emotional faiths, was in constant danger of being dragged
down into a disturbing and degrading sensuality. Then, again, when the
Roman Republic, in the age of Augustus Cæsar, had completed the range
of its world-wide conquests, two social forces, unknown in the best ages
of Greece and Rome, viz., wealth and luxury, added their perilous
momentum to the corrupting elements which were already at work in the
bosom of the polytheistic system. And in what a hot-bed of fermenting
putridity these evil leavens had resulted at this period, the pages of
Suetonius and many chapters in St. Paul are witnesses equally credible
and equally tragic. Add to all this the fact that the motley
intermixture of ideas and the inorganic confusion and forced
assimilation of creeds which, accompanied the universal march of Roman
polity, brought about a vague desire for some sort of religious unity
which might run parallel with the political unity under which men lived;
and this desire could be gratified only by placing in the foreground the
great truth of the unity of the Supreme Being, which to vindicate in
pre-Christian ages had been the special mission of the Hebrew race, and
which the Greeks themselves had not indistinctly indicated by placing
the moral government of the world and the issues of peace and war in the
hands of an omnipotent, all-wise, all-beneficent, and absolute Jove.
These and the like considerations will lead the thoughtful student of
history easily to understand how the appearance of such an extraordinary
moral force as Christianity was imperatively called for at the period
when our Saviour, with His divine mission to a fallen race, began His
preaching on the shores of a lonely Galilean lake; and the most
superficial glance at the contents of His preaching, as contrasted with
the heathenism which it replaced, will show how wonderful was the new
start which it gave to the moral life of the world, and how effective
the spur which it applied to the march of the ages–a spur so
potent that we may, without the slightest exaggeration, say that to
Christianity we owe almost exclusively whatever mild agencies tempered
the harshness and sweetened the sourness of crude government in the
Middle Ages; and no less, whatever hopeful elements are at the present
moment working among ourselves to save the British people, at a critical
stage of their social development, from the decadence and the
degradation that overtook the Romans after their great military mission
had been fulfilled. Let us look articulately at the main constituents of
that new leaven wherewith Christianity was equipped to regenerate the
world. These I find to be–

(1.) By asserting in the strongest way the unity of God, it at once cut
the root of the tendency in human nature to create arbitrary objects of
worship according to the lust or fancy of the worshipper, and accustomed
the popular intelligence to a harmonised view of the various forces at
work in the constitution of a world so various and so complex as to a
superficial view readily to appear contradictory and irreconcilable.

(2.) By preaching the unity of God, not as an abstract metaphysical
idea, but as what it really is, a divine fatherhood, Christianity at one
stroke bound all men together as brethren and members of a common
family; and in this way, while in the relation of nation to nation it
substituted apostleships of love for wars of subjugation, in the
relation of class to class it established a sort of spiritual democracy,
in which the implied equality of all men as men gradually led to the
abolition of the abnormal institution of slavery, on which all ancient
society rested.

(3.) Christianity, by starting religion as an independent moral
association altogether separate from the State, at once purified the
sphere of the Church from corrupting elements, and confined the State
within those bounds which the nature of a civic administration
furnishes. Religion in this way was purified and elevated, because in
its nicely segregated sphere no secular considerations of any kind could
interfere to tone down its ideal, direct its current, or lame its
efficiency; while the State, on the other hand, was saved from the folly
of intermeddling with matters which it did not understand, and
professing principles which it did not believe.

(4.) Christianity, by planting itself emphatically at the very first
start, as one may see in the Sermon on the Mount, in direct antagonism
to ritualism, ceremonialism, and every variety of externalism, and
placing the essence of all true religion in regeneration, or, as St.
Paul has it, a new creature–_i.e._ the legitimate practical
dominance of the spiritual and ethical above the sensual and carnal part
of our nature–broke down the middle wall of partition which had so
often divided piety from morality; so that now a man of culture might
consistently give his right hand to religion and his left hand to
philosophy, an attitude which, so long as Homer was all that the Greeks
had for a bible, no devout Hellenist could assume.

(5.) By placing a firm belief in a future life as a guiding prospect in
the foreground, the religion of Christ gave the highest possible value
to human life, and the strongest possible spur to perseverance in a
virtuous career.

(6.) By appealing directly to the individual conscience, and making
religion a matter of personal concern and of moral conviction, it raised
the value of each individual as a responsible moral agent, and placed
the dignity of every man as a social monad on the firmest possible
pedestal.

(7.) By making love its chief motive power, it supplied both the steam
and the oil of the social machine with a continuity of moral force never
dreamt of in any of the ancient societies–a force which no mere
socialistic schemes for organising labour, no boards of health, no
political economy, no mathematical abstractions, no curiosities of
physical science, no democratic suffrages, and no school inspectorships,
though multiplied a thousand times, apart from this divine agency, can
ever hope to achieve.

Thus equipped with a moral armature such as the world had never yet
seen, it might have been expected that the triumph of Christianity over
the ruins of heathenism would have been as complete and as pure from all
admixture of evil as it appears in the great evangelical manifesto
commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. But it was not to be so; nor,
indeed, created as human nature is, could possibly be. The miraculous
virtue of the seed could not change the nature of the soil, and the
sweet new wine put into old bottles could not fail to catch a taint from
the acid incrustations of the original liquor. _Corruptia optimi
pessima_ is the great lesson which history everywhere teaches, and
nowhere with a more tragic impressiveness than in the history of the
Christian Church. What a rank crop of old wives’ fables, endless
genealogies, ceremonial observances, worship of the letter, voluntary
humilities, and disputations of science, falsely so called, started into
fretful array before the spiritual swordsmanship of St. Paul, no reader
of the grandest correspondence in the world need be told; but it was not
so much from Jewish drivel, Attic subtlety, or Corinthian sensualism,
that the corrupting forces were to proceed which in the post-Apostolic
age insinuated themselves like a poison into the pure blood of the
Church. It is from within that, in moral matters, our great danger
flows: if the kingdom of heaven is there, the kingdom of hell is there
no less distinctly. The doctrine of Aristotle, and the teaching of
history that ALL EXTREMES ARE WRONG, is ever and ever repeated to
passion-spurred mortals, and ever and ever forgotten. In the green
ardour of our worship we make an idol of our virtue; the strong lines of
the particular excellence which we admire are stretched into a
caricature; our sublime, severed from all root of soundness, reels over
into the ridiculous; we revel and riot and get into an intoxicated
excitement with the fruit of our own fancy; and work ourselves from one
stage of inflammation to another, till, as our great dramatist says,

“Goodness, grown to a pleurisy,
Dies of its own too much.”

The excess into which Christianity at its first start most naturally
fell was ultra-spiritualism, asceticism, or by whatever name we may
choose to characterise that high-flying system in morals which, not
content with the regulation and subordination, aims at the violent
subjugation and, as much as may be, the total suppression of the
physical element in man. How near this abuse lay is evident, not only
from the general tendency of every man to make an idol of his
distinctive virtue, and of every sect to delight in the exaggeration of
its most characteristic feature, but there are not a few passages of the
New Testament which plainly show that the masculine Christianity of St.
Paul had not more occasion to protest against those Greek libertines who
turned the grace of God into licentiousness, than against those
offshoots of the Jewish Essenes who professed a self-imposed arbitrary
religiosity (Col. ii. 18, 23), even forbidding to marry and commanding
to abstain from meats (I Tim. iv. 3).[18] There is, indeed, something
very seductive in these attempts to acquire a superhuman virtue, whether
they be made by a poet casting off the vulgar bonds that bind him to his
fellows, like Percy Bysshe Shelley, that he may feed upon sun-dews and
get drunk on transcendental imaginations, or by a religious person, that
he may devote himself to spiritual exercises, free from the disturbing
influence of earthly passions. Such a renunciation of the flesh
gratifies his pride, and has, in fact, the aspect of a heroic virtue in
a special line; while, at the same time, it is with some persons more
convenient, inasmuch as when the resolution is once formed and a decided
start made, it is always easier to abstain than to be moderate.
Nevertheless, all such ambitious schemes to ignore the body and to cut
short the natural rights of our physical nature must fail. It never can
be the virtue of a man to wish to be more than man; and every religion
which sets a stamp of special approval on superhuman, and therefore
unhuman, virtue, erects a wall of separation between the gospel which it
preaches and the world which it should convert. In fact, it rather gives
up the world in despair, and institutes an artificial school for the
practice of certain select virtues, which only a few will practise, and
which, when practised, can only make those few unfit for the social
position which Providence meant them to occupy.

The second excess into which Christianity, under the action of frail
human nature, easily ran was intolerance. This intolerance, as in the
previous case, is only a virtue run to seed; for, as all asceticism is
merely a misapplication or an exaggeration of the virtue of self-denial
and self-control, so all intolerance, or defect of kindly regard to the
contrary in opinion or conduct, is merely a crude or an impolitic
extension of the imperative ought which lies at the root of all moral
truth, and specially of all monotheistic religions. There is, indeed, a
certain intolerance in truth which will not allow it to hold parley with
error; and every new religion with a lofty inspiration, conscious of a
divine mission, is necessarily aggressive: it delights to pluck the
beard of ancestral authority, and marches right into the presence of
hoary absurdity and consecrated stupidity. No doubt there is a boundary
here which the divine wisdom of the Son of God pointed at emphatically
enough when he was asked to bring down fire from heaven on those who
taught or did otherwise; but the evil spirit of self-importance which
prompted this request was too deeply engrained in human nature to be
eradicated by a single warning of the great teacher. This spirit of
arrogant individualism asserted itself at an early period in the
disorderly Corinthian Church very much in the same way as it does
amongst ourselves, specially in Scotland, at the present moment–viz.
by the multiplication of sects, the exaggeration of petty distinctions,
and the fomenting of petty rivalries,–“Now this I say, that every one
of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I
of Christ” (I Cor. i. 12),–a spirit which the apostle most strongly
denounces as proceeding manifestly from the overrated importance of
some secondary specialty, or some accessory condition, of the body of
believers, who thus clubbed themselves into a denomination, and
resulting in an unkindly divergence from the common highway of
evangelic life, and an intolerant desire to override one Christian
brother with the private shibboleth of another, and to stamp him with
the seal of their own conceit. The field in which this intolerant Spirit
displayed itself was of course different, according to the influences at
work at the time; but there is one field which, if church history is to
teach us anything, we are bound to emphasise strongly, that is the field
of dogma; for, if there be any influence that has worked more powerfully
to discredit Christianity than even the immoral lives and selfish maxims
of professing Christians, it is the fixation and glorification and
idol-worship of the dogma. No doubt Christianity is far from being that
system, or rather no system, of vague and cloudy sentiment to which some
persons would reduce it: it has bones, and a firm framework; it stands
upon facts, and is not without doctrines, but it does not make a parade
of doctrines; and the faith which it enjoins, as is manifest from the
definition and historical examples in Hebrews xi., is not an
intellectual faith in the doctrines of a metaphysical theology, but a
living faith in the moral government of the world and a heroic conduct
in life, as the necessary expression of such faith. The mere
intellectual orthodoxy on which the Christian Church has, by the
tradition of centuries, placed such a high value, is, in the apostolical
estimate, plainly worth nothing; for the devils also believe and
tremble, as St. James has it, or as our Lord himself said in the
striking summation to the Sermon on the Mount, “Not they who call me
_Lord, Lord_, shall enter into the kingdom, but they who do the will of
my Father who is in heaven. By their works, not by their creed, ye shall
know them.”[19] Nevertheless, the exaltation of the dogma has always
been a favourite tendency of the Church, and the besetting sin of the
clergy. With the mass of the people, to swear to a curious creed is
always more easy than to lead a noble life; while to the clerical
intellect it must always give a secret satisfaction to think that the
science of theology, which is the furthest removed from the handling of
the great mass of men, has in their hands assumed a well-defined shape,
of which the articulations are as subtle and as necessary as the steps
of solution in a difficult algebraic problem. The late Baron Bunsen, for
many years Prussian ambassador in London, one of the most large-minded
and large-hearted of Christian men, in the preface to his great _Bibel
werk_, devotes a special chapter to Dogmatism as a vice of the clerical
mind leading to false views of Scripture; over and above what he calls
the modern revival of scholastic theology in Germany, he enumerates four
dominant epochs of ecclesiastical life in which this anti-evangelical
tendency has prominently asserted itself. These are–(1) the dogmatism
of the great Church councils in the reigns of Constantine, Theodosius,
and Justinian; (2) the medieval scholasticism of the Western Church; (3)
the Protestant scholasticism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries;
(4) the dogmatism of the Jesuits, Perron, Bossuet, and others. Had this
dogmatic tendency of the Church contented itself with tabulating a
curious scheme of divine mysteries, though it might justly have been
deemed impertinent, and here and there a little presumptuous, yet it
might have been condoned lightly as a sort of clerical recreation in
hours which might have been worse employed; but it could not be content
with this: it passed at once into action, and in this guise prevailed to
deface the fair front of the Church with gashes of more bloody and
barbarous inhumanity than ever marked the altars of the Baals and
Molochs of the most savage heathen superstitions.

Another monstrous abuse born out of the bosom of the Church, though not
so directly, is Sacerdotalism. I say not so directly, because the genius
of Christianity is so distinctly negative of all priesthood that, had
there been even an express prohibition of it, its contradiction to the
whole tone of the New Testament could not have been more apparent. Not
more certainly are the sacrifices of the Jewish law abolished in the
sacrifice of Christ, according to the Pauline theology, than the
Levitical priesthood stands abolished in the priesthood of Christ and in
the priesthood of the individual members of his spiritual body (2 Peter
v. 9).[20] Whence, then, came our Christian priesthood? Partly, I
suspect, as the Jewish Sabbath was interpolated into the Christian
Lord’s Day, from the nearness and external similitude of the two
things–the presbyter being to the outward eye pretty much the same
as the priest was to the Jewish worshippers; partly from the
self-importance which is the besetting sin of all bodies of men
prominently planted in the social platform, and which induces them to
magnify their vocation, and in doing so stilt their professional pride
up into the attitude of a very stately and a very reputable virtue. The
proper functions of the office-bearers of the early Christian Church,
call them overseers, bishops, or what you will, were so honourable and
so beneficent that, especially with an unlearned and unthinking people,
the reverential respect due to the actors might easily pass into a
superstitious belief in the mystical virtue of the operations of which
they were the conductors; and this ready submission on the part of the
people, holding out a willing hand to the natural self-importance and
potentiated self-estimate of the clerical body, resulted in a
four-square system of sacerdotal control, sacerdotal virtue, and
sacerdotal influence, to which we shall search for a parallel in vain
through all the annals of Asiatic and African heathenism. Nay, I can
readily believe that those who can find a priesthood in the genius of
the gospel and the apostolic institution of the Christian Church, will
naturally be inclined to maintain that the superior power of the
Gregories, Bonifaces, and Innocents of the medieval Church, as
contrasted with anything that we read or know of the Egyptian, Hebrew,
and Roman pontiffs, is the natural and necessary outcome of the superior
excellence of the Christian religion; and this, no doubt, is the only
comfortable belief on which all forms of Christian sacerdotalism can
repose.

So much for the corruptions of the Christian religion proceeding from
what, in theological language, might be called the indwelling sin of the
Church, unstimulated by any strong external seduction. But this
seduction came. After three centuries of hardship, manfully endured in
the school of adversity, the more severe trial of prosperity had to be
gone through. The Church, which had been declared to be not of this
world, and had stood face to face with the greatest political power the
world ever knew in a position of sublime moral isolation, was now
adopted by the State, and formed a bond of the most intimate connection
with its hereditary persecutors. The starting-point of the oldest
heathen social attitude, the identity of Church and State, seemed to be
recalled; and a Justinian on the shores of the Bosphorus seemed as
really a head of the Church as a Menes or an Amenophis on the banks of
the Nile. But under the outward likeness a radical difference lay
concealed. As an essentially ethical society, with its own special
credentials, its separate history, and its independent triumph, the
Christian Church might form an alliance with a purely secular
institution like the State, but it could not be absorbed or identified
with it. That alliance might be made beneficially in various ways and on
various terms; the civil magistrate might be proud to be called the
friend and the brother of the Christian bishop, or he might humble
himself to be its servant, but he never could be its master. The
alliance therefore was, as it ought to be, all in favour of the
spiritual body; the Church gained the civil power to execute its decrees
and to patronise its missions; but a Christian State could never gain
the right to dictate the creed or perform the functions of the Church.
The idea that there is anything absolutely sinful, or necessarily
pernicious, in the conception of an alliance between the Church and the
State, is one of those hyperconscientious crotchets of modern British
sectarianism at which the Muse of history can only smile. There can be
no greater sin in an Established Church than in an Established
University or an Established Royal Academy. Religion and Science and Art
have their separate and well-marked provinces, in the administration of
which they may wisely seek for the co-operation, though they will always
jealously avoid the dictation, of the State. But, though there could be
no sin in the Church receiving the right hand of fellowship from the
State, there might be danger, and that of a very serious description.
Nothing strikes a man so much in the reading of the New Testament as the
little respect which it pays to riches and the pomp and pride of life,
and worldly honours and dignities of all kinds. “_How can ye
believe who receive honour one from another?_” is a sentence
that cuts very deep into the connection between the Church and State,
which might readily mean the alliance of a secular institution,
delighting in pomp and parade and glittering show, with a religion of
which, like the philosophy of the porch, the most prominent feature was
unworldliness, humility, and spirituality. Here unquestionably was
danger: an alliance in which, as in an ill-consorted marriage, the lower
element was as likely to drag down the higher as the higher to lift up
the lower. And so it actually happened. The Church was secularised.
Alongside of the hundred and one monkeries of stolid asceticism and the
hundred and one mummeries of sacerdotal ceremonialism, there grew up in
the process of the ages a consolidated hierarchy of such concentrated,
secular, and sacred potency that the loftiest crowned heads of Europe
ducked beneath its shadow and quailed beneath its ban. To understand
this, we must take note of the change by which the scattered presbyters
of the primitive Church were gradually massed into a strong aristocracy,
which in due season, after the fashion of the State, found its key-stone
in an ecclesiastical monarch. It was the wisdom of the founders of the
Christian Church not to lay down any fixed norm of official
administration, but to leave all the external machinery of a purely
spiritual institution free to adapt itself to the existing forms of
society as time and circumstance and national genius might demand. The
form of government natural to the Church in its earliest stages was
democratic, with a certain loose, ill-defined element of presidential
aristocracy. But in an age which had bidden a long farewell both to the
spirit and the form of democracy in civil administration, such a form of
government in the Church could not hope to maintain itself. Under the
influence of the magnificent autocracy of Rome in its decadence, the
simple overseer or superintendent (ἐπίσκοπος) of a remote
provincial congregation of believers gradually grew into a metropolitan
dignitary, and culminated in the wielder of a secular sovereignty
sitting in council with the most influential monarchs of Europe. The
epiphany of an absolute monarch with a triple tiara on his head when
contrasted with the simplicity and unworldliness of the primitive
bishops wears such a strange look that it has been judged, especially in
Protestant countries, with a more sweeping severity than it deserved. As
a mere form of government, no man can give any good reason why the
Church should not be governed by a monarch as well as the State; the
bishop of Rome, as supreme head of the body of bishops all over
Christendom, and guided by them as his habitual advisers, was at least
as natural and as reasonable a guide for the direction of the conscience
of Christendom in the Middle Ages as the Council of Protestants who at
Dort, in the year 1618, condemned the greatest theologian and jurist of
the day to pine in a Dutch prison, or the Assembly of Divines in
Westminster who empowered the supreme magistrate to suppress the right
of free thought in the breasts of all persons who were not prepared to
set their seal to the damnatory dogmas of extreme Calvinism. Nay, so far
from there being anything anti-Christian or anti-social in the Popedom
as a form of Church government, we may safely say that in ages of
general turmoil, confusion, and violence, the admitted supremacy of the
visible head of a church founded on principles of peace and conciliation
could not act otherwise than beneficially. But when the person in whom
this moral supremacy was vested became the acknowledged head of a
secular princedom, the case was altered. It was an unhappy day for the
Christian Church, the most unhappy day perhaps in its whole eventful
history, when Pepin, the ambitious minister of the last of the
Merovingian kings, in the year 751, contrived to get out of Pope Zachary
a spiritual sanction for his usurption of his master’s throne.
From that moment the Church was doomed to a blazing and brilliant, but a
sure career of downfall. The spiritual abetter of a secular crime had to
be rewarded for his pious subserviency: he received the exarchate of
Ravenna, and became a temporal prince. From that time forward the head
of the Christian Church, who ought to have stood before the world as a
model of all purity, truthfulness, peacefulness, and ethical nobility,
was condemned to serve two masters, God and Mammon, unworldly morality
and worldly power, which was impossible. From this time forward there
was not a single court intrigue in Europe, nor a single plot of any knot
of conspirators, into whose counsels the supreme bishop of the gospel of
peace might not be dragged, or, what is worse, into whose lawless and
ungodly machinations he might not be officially thrusting himself, in
order to preserve some accessory interest or gain some paltry advantage
altogether unconnected with his spiritual function. If there is any one
element, always of course excepting the element of gross sensuality and
absolute villainy, which more than another is adverse to the spirit of
Evangelical Christianity, it is the element of court intrigue, political
contention, and party feuds. In this region love, which is the life of
the regenerate soul, cannot breathe; truth is put under ban; lies
flourish; conscience is smothered; and low expediency everywhere takes
the place of lofty principle. So it fared not seldom with the Popes; and
much worse in the last degree; for wickedness, like everything that
lives, must live by growing, and the seed of secular ambition which was
sown in lies, will grow to robbery, blossom in lust, and ripen into
murder. This anywhere, but specially in Italy, where from the time of
the patrician Scipio, who suppressed the elder Gracchus, the hot
contenders for absolute power, in the eager pursuit of their object,
have never shrank from the free use of the assassin’s dagger and
the poisoner’s bowl. In fact, if the love of mere animal pleasure
makes a man a beast, it is the love of power that translates him into a
fiend; and of this sort of human fiends Italian history presents as
appalling a register as can be found anywhere in the annals of our race;
and at the top of this register stand some of the Popes, whose names are
as prominent in the story of ecclesiastical Rome as those of Nero,
Domitianus, and Heliogabalus are in the story of the imperial decadence.
When we cast a rapid glance–for it deserves nothing more–on
the revolting record of the Roman Popes in the age immediately preceding
the Reformation, we hear the solemn voice of history repeating again the
maxim above quoted–_corruptio optimi pessima_: when priests
are bad, they are very bad; when the salt of the gospel, which was meant
to preserve the moral life of society from putrescence, has lost its
savour, if not cast out, it is worse than useless–it becomes a
poison.

Before proceeding to the modern history of the Church, we ought to
emphasise in a special paragraph the fact that one unfortunate result of
the incorporation of the Church with the State was that the Church was
now in a position to request the State to lend its potent aid in
establishing the true doctrine of the gospel and suppressing all
heresies. That the State had a right to do so no man doubted; even in
democratic Greece free-thinking philosophers, such as Anaxagoras,
Diogenes, and Socrates, were banished or suffered death on charges of
impiety; and though, no doubt, political elements, as in the case of the
Arminians in Holland, worked along with the strictly religious feeling
to set the brand of atheism on those men, there cannot be any doubt that
where the State and the Church were so essentially one, persecutions for
unauthorised religious observances were perfectly legitimate, as indeed
the memorable case of the forcible suppression of the Dionysiac
mysteries, more than two hundred years before the earliest of the
Christian martyrdoms in Rome, abundantly testifies. But there was a
double horror in the religious persecution, after the establishment of
Christianity, now inaugurated for the first time–the horror of a
conduct so diametrically opposed to the spirit and the express
injunction of the Founder of the Gospel, in whose defence it was
practised, and the horror also that what was now violently suppressed
was not, as in the case of the Dionysiac mysteries, rather immoral
practices than erroneous beliefs, but simply and nakedly metaphysical
objections against metaphysical propositions in theology, which, whether
true or false, could not be made the subject of State action, or, in my
opinion at least, of ecclesiastical censure, without a flagrant
violation of that law of charity which a large philosophy and a catholic
Christianity equally enjoin. The banishment of Arius to Illyria, as the
civil consequence of the formal signature of the Trinitarian creed by
the decision of the Council of Nice in the year 325, though it made no
small noise in the world in those days, was a very innocent overture to
the barbarous dramas of fire and blood that were in after ages to be
enacted on this evil precedent. There are many grand places rich with
historical lessons in London, and not a few sad ones; but the saddest of
all is Smithfield. I can never pace the stones of this memorable site,
where our noblest Scot, Sir William Wallace, was disembowelled and
quartered to gratify the vengeance of an imperious Norman, without
thinking of the sad fate of the young and beautiful Anne Askew. This
lady, the daughter of a knight of good family in Lincolnshire, under
some of those stimulants of thought which were stirring up the stagnant
traditions of medieval piety, had been led to conceive serious doubts
with regard to the Scripture authority for some of the most universally
received doctrines of the Roman Church. This pious scepticism coming to
the ears of certain leading persons in Church and State, who, after the
example of the Nicean doctors, considered it a sacred duty in matters
pertaining to religion to tolerate no contradiction, first brought this
lady before the Lord Chancellor, who tore her limb from limb on the
rack, because she would not say that she believed what she could not
believe without denying her senses, and then dragged her to the
blood-stained pavement of Smithfield, where she was girt with gunpowder
bags and fenced with faggots, to be burnt to death, as if the God of
Christians were a second and enlarged edition of the old Moloch of
Palestine. And what was her offence–beautiful, young, pure, and
truthful woman, not more than twenty-five years of age–that she
should be treated in this worse than cannibalic style in the name of the
gospel of Jesus Christ? Simply that Henry VIII., in that style of
insolent masterdom which he showed so royally, and conceiting himself,
like a Scotch fool who came after him, to be a considerable theologian,
assumed the right to put the stamp of absolute kingship on the doctrine
of the Church that a piece of bread, over which a priestly benediction
had been pronounced by a priest, was by the mystical virtue of this
benediction changed into flesh, while the fair young lady persisted in
seeing nothing but bread. Let it be granted that the lady was in the
wrong and the churchly tradition right, it never could be right to tear
her flesh to shreds and to burn her bones to ashes because she held an
opinion which, to say the least of it, looked as like the truth as its
opposite. How sad, how sorrowfully sad, and what a commentary on what we
are ever and anon tempted to call poor, pitiful, prideful, and
presumptuous human nature, that Christianity had at that time been more
than fifteen hundred years in the world, sitting in high places, and
walking with triumphal banners over the earth, and yet neither the
princes of the earth nor the rulers of the Church should have retained
even a slight echo of that reproof from a mild Master to a zealous
disciple, to the effect that no man who knew the spirit of the divine
religion which He taught, would ever propose to bring fire down from
heaven or up from hell to consume the unbeliever.

Such enormities in the doctrine and practice of the Church, as we have
indicated rather than described, could lead to only one of two
issues–Reform or Revolution. The change brought about, though
contenting itself with the milder name, was in fact the more drastic
procedure. The European reformation of Martin Luther in 1517 was a
revolution in the Church, much more radical and much more worthy of so
strong a designation than the political revolution of 1688 in Great
Britain. It is needless to recapitulate the causes of offence; they were
only too patent–insolence, secularity, sensuality, venality,
idleness, vice, and worthlessness of every kind in the Church; but there
were two causes which, in addition to corruption from within, tended to
open the ears of Christendom largely to the cry for Church reform. These
were the stir in the intellectual movement from the days of the author
of the Divine Comedy downwards, enforced by the invention of printing in
the middle of the fifteenth century, which was amply sufficient to
become a danger to even a much less vulnerable creed than that which had
satisfied the crude demands of medieval intelligence; and, in the second
place, the hostility which the insolence and ambition of Churchmen had
roused in the secular magistracy–that is, not only the monarch and
his official ministers, but the great body of the higher nobility who
found themselves ousted from their place in the familiar counsels of the
monarch by the advocates and ambassadors of a foreign potentate. Thus
the two best friends of every Established Church in its normal state
were converted into enemies; and the natural indignation of the common
people at the licentious lives and gross venality of the clergy was
stimulated into an explosion by the desire of the secular dignities to
curb the pride of the clergy, and, it might lightly happen also, to rob
them of part of their overgrown wealth, nominally for the public good,
really for the aggrandisement of the Crown and the nobility. The
shameless nepotism of Pope Sixtus IV., the flagitious lives and
abhorrent practices of the Borgias, more fit for a sensational melodrama
in the lowest Parisian theatre than for the home of a Christian bishop;
the military rage of a Julius, who turned the Church of Christ into a
travelling camp and the bishop’s crozier into a soldier’s
sword; the literary dilettantism of the Court of Leo X., more eager to
distinguish itself by the elegant trimming of Latin versicles than by
apostolic zeal and Christian purity,–all this, so long as it
disported itself on Italian ground, the aristocracy of England and
Scotland might have continued to look on with indifference; but that the
son of anybody or nobody, in a county of unvalued clodhoppers, should
jostle them in the antechamber of the monarch, and claim precedence in
the hall of audience, simply because he was the supple instrument of an
insolent Italian priest, this was not to be borne; and so the
Reformation came, with the mob of the lowest classes, the mass of the
respectable middle classes, the most influential of the nobility, and
the power of the Crown, all in full cry against the ecclesiastical fox.
The revolution thus volcanically effected, and known in history under
the name of Protestantism, meant simply the right of every individual
member of the Christian Church to take the principles and the practice
of his Church directly from the original records of the Church, without
the intervention of any body of authorised interpreters; and the
necessary product of this right when exercised was first to declare
certain practices and doctrines that had grown up in the Church through
long centuries to be unauthorised departures from the original
simplicity and purity of the gospel; and, further, to deny that there
existed in the Christian Church, as originally constituted, any class or
caste of men enjoying the exclusive privilege to perform sacred
functions, and endowed with a divine virtue to perform sacramental
miracles by their consecrating touch,–in a word, that there was no
priesthood, properly so called, in the Reformed Christian Church. Nor is
this doctrine, as some may think, the teaching only of the Helvetic
confession, what certain persons have been fond to call extreme
Protestantism; for, though the word priest has been retained in the
English prayerbook as a minister in sacred things of a particular grade
and exercising a particular function, the attempt made by Archbishop
Laud and the Romanising party in the Reformed Church of England to
retain in the bosom of the Anglican Church the ideas which the ancient
Jews and the Romish Christians attached to the word _priest_,
proved a signal failure; and for the sacerdotal despotism which it
implied, as well as for the secular despotism which the priest advised
and encouraged the unfortunate king to assert, the adviser and the
advised justly lost their heads. Of all the teachings of Church history,
from the Waldenses in the twelfth century down to the present hour,
there is nothing more certain than this, that between Popery and
Protestantism there is no middle term possible. They may agree, in fact
they do agree, in many essential things, and in a few accidental; but in
the fundamental principle of Church administration they are
diametrically opposed. The principle of the one is sacerdotal authority,
absolute and unqualified; the principle of the other is individual and
congregational liberty. The one form of polity is a close oligarchy, the
other either a free democracy or an aristocracy more or less penetrated
by a democratic spirit.

The practical outcome of this great Protestant movement, in the midst of
which we live, cannot fail to a reasonable eye to appear in the highest
degree satisfactory. Never was the life of the Christian Church at once
more intensely earnest and more expansively distributive than at the
present moment. On the one hand, the Roman Church, wisely taught by the
experience of the past, though obstinately cleaving to that stout
conservatism of doctrine and ritual inherent in the very bones of all
sacerdotal religions, has been, in the main, studious to avoid those
causes of offence from which the great rupture proceeded. On the other
hand, the Protestant Churches, shaken free from the distracting
influence of sacerdotal assumption and secular ambition, have found
themselves in a condition to permeate all classes of society with a
moral virtue, of whose regenerative action Plato and Socrates, in their
best hours, could not have dreamed. Some people, while gladly admitting
the immense amount of social good that is done by the various sections
of the Protestant Church, never cease to sigh for a lost ecclesiastical
unity, and to lament the unseemly strifes that arise among those that
should be possessed by one spirit and strive together for a common end.
But the persons who speak thus are either sentimental weaklings, being
Protestants, or are Romanists and sacerdotalists in their heart. Variety
is the law of nature in the moral no less than in the physical world;
and the absorption of all sects into one results in a stagnation which
will never be found amongst moral beings, unless when produced by
weakness of vital force from within, or unnatural suppression from
above. The two dominant types of church polity recognised in this
country since the Reformation–the Episcopal and the Presbyterian–of
which the one boasts a more aristocratic intellectual culture, and the
other a more fervid and forcible popular action, may well be allowed to
exist together on a mutual understanding of giving and taking whatever
is best in each, and thus, in apostolic language, provoking one another
to love and to good works. Competition is for the public benefit as much
in churches as in trades. Dissent from any dominant body, even though it
may proceed from the exaggerated importance given to a secondary matter,
will always produce the good result that the dominant body will thereby
be stirred to greater activity and greater watchfulness; so that, in
this view, we may lay it down as one of the great lessons of history
that the best form of church government is a strong establishment
qualified by a strong dissent. As to the proposals which have in recent
times been made for the formal separation of Church and State, they bear
on their face more of a political than of a religious significance.
Impartial history offers no countenance to the notion that Established
Churches, when well flanked by dissent, and in an age when the spiritual
ruler has ceased to make the arm of the State the tool of intolerance,
are contrary either to piety or to policy; and in the desire so loudly
expressed at election contests to lay violent hands on the valuable
organism of church agency existing in this country, the venerated
inheritance of many ages of patriotic struggle, the student of history,
with a charitable allowance for the best motives in not a few, feels
himself constrained to suspect in all such movements no small admixture
of sectarian jealousy, fussy religiosity, and domineering democracy.
Christianity, of course, stands in no need of an Established Church;
religion existed for three hundred years in the church without any State
connection, and may exist again; but Christianity does, above all
things, abhor the stirring up of strife betwixt Church and Church from
motives of jealousy, envy, or greed; and, along with the highest
philosophy and the most far-sighted political wisdom, must protest in
the strongest terms against the abolishing of a useful ethical
institution to gratify the insane lust of levelling in a mere numerical
majority.

The Church of the future, whether established or disestablished, or, as
I think best, both together, provoking one another to love and to good
works, has a great mission before it, if it keep sharply in view the two
lessons which the teaching of eighteen centuries so eloquently enforces.
Our evangelists must remove from the van of their evangelic force all
that sharp fence of metaphysical subtlety and scholastic dogma, which,
being ostentatiously paraded in creeds and catechisms, has given more
just offence to those without than edification to those within the
Church; the gospel must be presented to the world with all that catholic
breadth, kindly humanity, and popular directness which were its boast
before it was laced and screwed into artificial shapes by the decrees of
intolerent councils, and the subtleties of ingenious schoolmen. And,
again, they must not allow the gospel to be handled, what is too often
the case, as a mere message of hope and comfort in view of a future
world; but they must make it walk directly into the complex relations of
modern society, and think that it has done nothing till the ideal of
sentiment and conduct which it preached on Sunday has been more or less
practised on Monday. In fact, there ought to be less vague preaching on
Sunday, and more specific and direct application through the week of
gospel principle in various spheres of the intellectual and moral life
of the community. If, in addition to this, our prophets of the pulpit
take care to keep abreast of the intellectual movement of the age, so as
not only to stir the world in sermons, but to guide them in the wisdom
of daily life, they have nothing to fear from all the windy artillery
that the speculations of a soulless physical science, the imaginations
of a dreamy socialism, or the dogmatism of a cold philosophical
formalism, can bring to bear upon them. Let them grapple bravely with
all social problems, and prove whether Christianity, which has done so
much to purify the motives of individuals, may not be able also to put a
more effective steam into the machinery of society. If they shall fail
here, they will fail gloriously, having done their best. It is not given
to any people, however great, to solve all problems. When Great Britain
shall have played out her part, there will be scope enough in the
process of the ages for another stout social worker to place the cornice
on the edifice of which she was privileged to raise the pillars.