Page images
PDF
EPUB

think, not clearly perceived by them, but which we propose to show is evidenced by their discussion; and which will force them to elect between Catholicity, which is the affirmation of divine order, or Nihilism, which is its atheistic denial.

This radical dilemma lies, indeed, at the bottom of all doubt; submitting the divine intent, plan, and outcome of the creation, redemption, and salvation of man to logical solution. The divine idea, its affirmation, expression, and final consummation, cannot be supposed to be other than positive, real, and infallibly and irreformably true; excluding all negation; and condemnatory of all other possible or supposable interests, means, or ends, however good they may appear to be in themselves.

The divine work is God's work, and whatever it is, it is, in its verity, as much out of the pale of discussion as the truth of His own being. The counsels of the Most High God are not only beyond all criticism of the creature, but the fact determined by them must be in its nature unique, all-comprehensive, and of universal application ; intolerant of diminution ; not a question of more or less, or of good and better, but of all or none, the one or none at all. God's own bond to man in His divine purpose and plan of salvation is, as these writers cogently prove, not only divinely logical, but divinely ethical as well. One need hardly affirm, therefore, that, as a necessary consequence, man's bond to God-his religion-must be no less divinely logical and ethical.

This is the dominant idea presented to us throughout the entire volume as a basis for discussion of the momentous questions involved. “We much prefer," say they, in the introductory essay, "to be recognized as disciples of Him who is the Truth, than to be credited to standards of belief of human construction. Human progress would be impossible if everything in belief were changeable. No man could hope for moral perfection, if in the power of choice itself there were not the possibility of a permanent preference, or, if liberty were not exercised in a system of things which makes for stability.

The whole of this very remarkable statement of their assumed standpoint, from which they prepare themselves to view the origin, the operations, and final cause of the creation, redemption, and salvation of mankind, and, especially the words we have italicized, prove that they have thrown aside all special pleading for this or that doctrine of religion, and have determined to get to the bottom of things, and inquire after the ultimate reason of God's dealings with man. He is the Truth. His expression of truth in creation must be as true as the original conception of His own divine idea. A system of religion, if worthy of God, who is the truth, should

therefore be worthy of permanent preference, a system which does not lie within the competency of human wisdom either to construct or reform, but must be an assured expression of the truth as it is in God. Also, unless the exercise of religion on the part of man be free, it is necessarily valueless, for religion is as essentially ethical as it is logical. But, liberty of the subject is the free, intelligent, and willing obedience to legitimate authority; and this connotes stability, order, the logical application of truth in the expression of authority, denominated "a system.” As in every systematic selection of coördinate powers tending to a definite end, the synthesis of active and of passive, or resisting forces, is the equation, or harmonious expression of the unique idea affirmed by the originator or author of the system, it is evident that in a system of forces, intelligent and free, the authority or magisterium of the author demands and exacts a free, unfettered action, and submission of all the combined forces in the exercise of their correlative functions, or the idea would be deprived of its perfect expression, and the original design frustrated. Think of a wheel of a watch, if endowed with intelligence and volition, being unable to attain the knowledge of a definite position and order of movement, as a position and movement to be permanently preferred in order that the idea of the maker of the watch may result in the perfect expression of a time-piece; or, if the combination or system in which it was called upon to exercise its free, unclogged action were itself lacking in stability. Liberty supposes stability in the expression or exercise of authority, or it is a misnomer. All pretensions to liberty are vain if the system of government under which we live is so unstable as to offer no guarantee that the enjoyment of our rights will be either certain or secure. The history of the world is full of examples to prove that weakness or instability of government, in Church or State, has ever been the signal for the uprising of anarchical mobs, and the consequent obstruction or extinction of all social, political, or religious liberty.

These gentlemen have, therefore, enunciated a profound and irrefragable philosophical principle when they say that “ human progress would be impossible if everything in belief were changeable, and that no man could hope for moral perfection if the choice of a permanent preference were impossible to him," there being no object of permanent preference to elect, and that, lacking a system which makes for stability, liberty would be exercised in vain. Most assuredly they have struck a blow which will make for their religious freedom, for they have enunciated a fundamental principle underlying freedom in every order of human life. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

We are not surprised, therefore, to find our earnest essayists bringing the primary fundamental doctrines of religion, such as the Incarnation and the atonement, to the test of this pure, logical and ethical criterion. Whoso affirms the Incarnation affirms a synthesis. God, the thesis ; man, the antithesis ; and God-man, the synthetic unity. “The God-man” is an expression supremely logical and profoundly ethical, or it is nothing better than vaguely sentimental.

The first essay, on the Incarnation, is a fine specimen of popular theological exposition of doctrine. It is terse, clear, direct and persuasive, to the majority of non-Catholic readers; and even to many among those who lay claim to possess the requisite qualifications to be professors of Protestant theological science, there is much which will appear as new and original. One may be allowed to expect that the views are so presented as to leave the impression upon the general reader that they are, in the main, original. There is not one hint given, for instance, that the doctrine exposed in the third section of the first essay, and more distinctly affirmed in the second one, that the Incarnation is a primary divine decree of creation, and not consequent upon the decree of the redemption, has ever been more than suggested by theologians. “We do not claim," they say, " for this later thought upon the Incarnation any exclusive originality.” They have no right to claim any originality at all, since we cannot suppose them to be ignorant of the fact that among Catholic theologians it is no new or unheard-of thing, but that it has been widely held and taught. The whole doctrine and its application was lately thoroughly elucidated by the Rev. Father Hewitt, C.S.P., in the pages of the Catholic World, under the title of “ Problems of the Age,” in which the Rev. author arrives by profound theological reasoning at the conclusion that“ it is certain that God, in His eternal, creative purpose, determined the universe to an end metaphysically final, and that this end is attained in the Incarnation, or the union of created with uncreated nature in the person of the Word.” (Catholic World, October, 1866.)

Although our essayists appear to be not so confidently sure of the truth of this doctrine as to warrant them in affirming their categorical adhesion to it, as when they write: “The opinion has, therefore, reason in it that there would have been the Incarnation even if there had been no sin," yet it is quite evident that this view of the Incarnation is really the keystone to the new theological arch they have so boldly set themselves to construct, or rather to measure and copy what is already constructed; having found, moreover, that without it the attempt to justify the creative act by a congruous reason for it has been far from

satisfactory; or as well, to present any complete, logical and ethical basis for the application of the atonement to the individuals of the human race. Back to this fundamental doctrine must be referred the ethical principles of the solidarity of Christ and His creation, through whom and for whom all things were made, and on which is based the universality of the Redemption—"as all in Adam die, so shall all in Christ be made alive."

The creation, redemption, and judgment at consummation of the universe and of man, its intelligent, concorporate representation, are not fancies of the divine mind seeking diversion, to be made and used as playthings, so to speak, at their own expense. They are the terms of a divine synthesis, apprehended and affirmed by the created mind, thus recognizing and, as it were, reaffirming the truth of the creative Word, and freely accepted and cooperated with by created volition as an objective, stable system ; founded in the last analysis upon the divine immutability, or equilibrium of law, which is the reason of the act of being. God has created, has incarnated Himself with, and is redeeming, the universe; and will bring about the perfect consummation and final equilibrium of all things, not because of what He has done, but because He is God -the Being of whom and of whose acts only perfect truth, absolute freedom and unique goodness can be predicated. He creates because He is God. He becomes incarnate because He is God. He redeems the world to a like spirit and liberty with His own because He is God; and the divine end of all will be effected, because in the beginning He, who cannot fail of His purpose, was the original designer, and so affirmed it.

As the Logos, the Word, God affirming Himself as acting, is the principle to which creation must be referred, the creation is, as we may say, the out-spoken word of God, His created language, just as the acts of all created existences are, in some form, their word, and through which they can alone derive the "glory" or recognition of their acts.

Qui a semetipso loquitur propriam gloriam quærit.Only God has this right to speak à semetipso, and therefore He can alone seek His own glory. And unless creation does perfectly recognize its Author, and thus render adequate glory to its Creator, the end of its existence must be necessarily frustrated.

The whole Christian revelation has shown how perfectly and solely this can be realized by the Incarnation of the Word, and the whole and sole purpose of the Christian religion is to affirm and realize this recognition of the Creator through Christ. Hence the conclusion of every prayer and ascription of praise to God is thus framed, “ per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum." If the Incarna

VOL. XIII.-10

tion be the principle of the life of creation, i.e., of its recognitive acts, it is because it is the principle of its created existenceFrincipium essendi est principium operandi.

As applicable to, and illustrative of, the true idea of redemption, our essayists have kept this in view when they penned the following forcible and beautiful passage: “The created universe and all rational beings are through Christ and in Christ. Therefore, He mediates or reveals God to any part of His universe, according to the condition or need which may exist in that part. If, at any point His world is sick, weary, guilty, hopeless, there Christ is touched and hurt, and there He appears to restore and comfort. This earth is, it may be, the sheep lost in the wilderness, while the ninety and nine are safe in the fold. Christ cannot be indifferent to the least of His creatures in its pain and wickedness, for His universe is not attached to Him externally, but vitally. He is not a governor set over it, but is its life everywhere. He feels its every movement; most of all, its spiritual life and spiritual feebleness or disease, and appears in his glorious power even at the remotest point. If there were but one sinner, Christ would seek him. If but one planet were invaded by sin, Christ would come to its relief."

The affirmation of the keystone which we have indicated, is evident in every line of this. That keystone is the solidarity of Christ and creation through humanity, exhibiting the perfect substantial sympathy between Christ and it. It affirms the principle of all existence and life, viz., diversity as the image or expression of unity, individual personal responsibility as the image or expression of a united common solidarity. And conversely, diversity affirms itself to be by affirming its origin from, and relation or re-ligion to, unity, as individual responsibility affirms itself by affirming a united solidarity in like manner; principles which may be regarded as the ratio of all stability in the family-society, in the state and in the Church.

i We have lately had exhibited so striking a proof of this in the history of our own country, that we think we may be pardoned for its introduction here by way of illustration. Our national motto, “ E Pluribus Unum,was supposed 10 be the expression of national solidarity, and the consequent formulæ of unity and strength. But no sooner did the separate interests of the many clash than the Union was at once threatened with dissolution. In the hour of peril the reigning power instinctively saw that contention under the old motto would be vain and illogical ; and, by the virtual proclamation it made of the contrary principle, “ Ex uno, plures," the Union was saved, and order restored. The history of the Christian religion and its struggles with ali heresies and schisms, ought to show the impartial student the true secret of the order, stability and marvellous permanence of the Catholic Church contrasted with the disorder, instability and ephemeral character of all pretended forms of religious government, in which “the

many ” is made the principle of unity, a principle logically indefensible, and which, in the ethical order, must, sooner or later, prove the cause of dismemberment and annihilation of a union which, being illogical, cannot be other than fictitious,

« PreviousContinue »