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INTRODUCTION TO THE AMERICAN EDITION.
THE favor with which “Essays and Reviews":
a very significant volume with a very insignificant title — has been received on this side of the water suggested the following reprint, with altered name, for American use.
The seven dissertations, on as many distinct topics of theology, which compose this volume are severally the productions of English Churchmen, writing independently each of each, and unconnected, save by the fellowship of a liberal faith. Some of the writers occupy conspicuous stations, and are men of distinguished repute. Two are professors in the University of Oxford; one is professor in St. David's College, in Wales ; and one is successor to the late Dr. Arnold, in the headship of the Rugby School. The names of Jowett and of Rowland Williams are favorably known to American readers in connection with a volume of “ Theological Essays," edited four years since by Professor Noyes. That of Baden Powell * is no less eminent in physical science than in sacred learning
* The news has just reached us of the recent death of this eminent scholar. The University of Oxford loses in him one of its brightest ornaments, and the cause of liberal theology in the Church of England its ablest advocate.
These Essays have a value distinct from, and transcending, that of the speculations or conclusions they embody. They represent a new era in Anglican theology. The topics here discussed are handled with a frankness, a breadth, and a spiritual heroism long unknown to ecclesiastical England. The sincerity which speaks in them recalls the better days of a church, which in Catholic ages, and as a branch of Catholic Christendom, could boast such names as John Scotus, Anselm, Duns, Alexander of Hales, and Roger Bacon, and which numbers a More and a Cudworth among her Protestant divines.
The apathy into which the Church of England had fallen toward the close of the last century, her indifference to all theological inquiry, her barrenness of all theological learning, up to the time of the late Tractarian movement about a quarter of a century ago, are notorious and disgraceful alike to church and nation. It was during this period, precisely,
- from the middle of the eighteenth century to the third decade of the nineteenth, - that German theology, ranging through an illustrious pedigree of profound scholars, from Semler and Griesbach to De Wette and Ewald, explored every field of biblical, ecclesiastical, dogmatic inquiry, and accomplished its great revolụtion.
In these investigations and their results, the Church of England had no part or interest, and no faith ; regarding in her supineness every inquiry which did not presume the inviolable truth of her own prepossessions, and confirm the status quo of the canon and the text, as made in the interest of infidelity. The period immediately preceding this (1700 – 1750) was, notwithstanding the condemnation in which the author of the sixth of these Essays concludes the entire
century, an era of wide and beneficent activity. It embraced the works of Samuel Clarke, the worthy compeer of Newton and Leibnitz and Locke ; it embraced the latter and liberal writings of Whitby; it embraced the labors of Waterland and Hoadly, of Bingham and Bishop Butler, of Lowth and Lardner and Prideaux and Middleton; it embraced the earnest philosophy of Berkeley, and the mystic piety of Law.
A marked difference in the character and aims of leading Churchmen divides, as Mr. Pattison admits, the second half of the century from the first. To the writers above named succeeded a generation of men who brought quite other powers to quite other tasks. With one or two honorable exceptions, like that of Herbert Marsh, whatever of learning or of insight English theology then could boast was outside of the Anglican Church. The problem which mainly occupied the theological mind of the time was the attempt to prove the truth of the gospel by demonstrating an external relation between it and God. Christianity, whose fundamental postulate is the inner light by which it manifests itself as the truth of God, was advocated on the ground of certain facts, which, if true, would prove God to be its Author, and belief in it obligatory on pain of damnation. The student of the history of opinions might trace here a legitimate result of the then prevailing philosophy of Locke. A germ of mischief lurked in the immortal “ Essay,” whose fructification had so infected the intellectual atmosphere of the time, so vitiated its conceptions, so dimmed and confused the consciousness of God, that, instead of the divine Inpresence and informing Word of the old theologians, a prodigy in nature was held to be the only possible mediator between God and man, the only possible voucher and vehicle of revelation. Christianity was to be
received on account of its miracles, not the miracles on account of the more commanding truth of Christianity.
Nor did the decline of faith stop here. The very being of God was no longer a self-evident truth, but a question of logic, to be tried and settled by the understanding. The living God was become a probable being; belief in God, the result of induction. To crown all, morality itself, the absolute right, was virtually denied, and moral obligation reduced to the expediency of obeying a being who possesses the power to harm us “in another world.” And since the existence of such a being, for the human subject, was supposed to depend on a demonstration, moral obligation ceased, according to this view, for all whom that demonstration should fail to convince. The religious philosophy of unbelief reached its climax in Paley, exhibiting in him the strange phenomenon of a right-minded, Christian man, a preacher of the gospel, endeavoring to rear a system of ethics on a virtual negation of the fundamental distinction of right and wrong; a result commensurable only with the recent attempt of Mr. Mansel to base religion on Pyrrhonism.
The practical evil attending this degraded theology, the apathy and irreligion of the “Georgian era,” found a corrective in the rise of Methodism. That new dispensation of the gospel reacted with healing power on the Church. Its intellectual aberrations encountered a check in the new turn of religious thought which dates with Coleridge. The “ Aids to Reflection,” fragmentary and unsatisfactory as a system, contained in its fruitful suggestions the germ of a new life, whose development is now in progress.
Another contemporary reaction, of a more demonstrative kind, is that represented by Dr. Pusey, and popularly known by his name. But this movement, whose tendency is rather liturgical than theological, diverges too widely from the providential current of the time, and the genius of the people, to be anything more than an episode in the history of the Church whose theoretical contradictions it has served to illustrate, and whose order it has so profoundly agitated. The full development and thorough application of the principles involved in it necessitate, as recent defections from the national communion in favor of Romanism have shown, the entire abandonment of the Protestant ground.
The future of the Church is committed to another interest, and a different order of minds. The life of Anglican theology is now represented by such men as Powell and Williams and Maurice and Jowett and Stanley. Its strain and promise are apparent in these Essays.
The term “ Broad Church” has been used to designate the new phase of ecclesiastical life, whose characteristics are breadth and freedom of view, an earnest spirit of inquiry and resolute criticism, joined to a reverent regard for ecclesiastical tradition and the common faith of mankind. The spirit of this theology is at once progressive and conservative; careful of all essential sanctities, careful also of the rights of the mind, of the interests of science, and the “liberty of prophesying;” carefully adjusting old views with new discoveries, transient forms with everlasting verities; regarding symbols and “Articles” as servants of thought, not as laws of thought; as imperfect attempts to articulate truth, not as the measure and gauge of truth.
Rationalistic it is, inasmuch as it is Protestant; for, of Rationalism, the only alternative is Romanism. Yet assuming in Christianity itself the perfection of reason, and believing