Essays on "Supernatural Religion"
by J. B. Lightfoot
If the author of _Supernatural Religion_ [Footnote 1:1] designed, by withholding his name, to stimulate public curiosity and thus to extend the circulation of his work, he has certainly not been disappointed in his hope. When the rumour once got abroad, that it proceeded from the pen of a learned and venerable prelate, the success of the book was secured. For this rumour indeed there was no foundation in fact. It was promptly and emphatically denied, when accidentally it reached the ears of the supposed author. But meanwhile the report had been efficacious. The reviewers had taken the work in hand and (with one exception) lavished their praises on the critical portions of it. The first edition was exhausted in a few months.
No words can be too strong to condemn the heartless cruelty of this imputation. The venerable prelate, on whom the authorship of this anonymous work was thrust, deserved least of all men to be exposed to such an insult. As an academic teacher and as an ecclesiastical ruler alike, he had distinguished himself by a courageous avowal of his opinions at all costs. For more than a quarter of a century he had lived in the full blaze of publicity, and on his fearless integrity no breath of suspicion had ever rested. Yet now, when increasing infirmities obliged him to lay down his office, he was told that his life for years past had been one gigantic lie. The insinuation involved nothing less than this. Throughout those many years, during which the anonymous author, as he himself tells us, had been preparing for the publication of an elaborate and systematic attack upon Christianity, the bishop was preaching Christian doctrine, confirming Christian children, ordaining Christian ministers, without breathing a hint to the world that he felt any misgiving of the truths which he thus avowed and taught. Yet men talked as if, somehow or other, the cause of 'freethinking' had gained great moral support from the conversion of a bishop, though, if the rumour had been true, their new convert had for years past been guilty of the basest fraud of which a man is capable.
And all the while there was absolutely nothing to recommend this identification of the unknown author. The intellectual characteristics of the work present a trenchant contrast to the refined scholarship and cautious logic of this accomplished prelate. Only one point of resemblance could be named. The author shows an acquaintance with the theological critics of the modern Dutch school; and a knowledge of Dutch writers was known, or believed, to have a place among the acquisitions of this omniscient scholar. Truly no reputation is safe, when such a reputation is traduced on these grounds.
I have been assuming however that the work entitled _Supernatural Religion_, which lies before me, is the same work which the reviewers have applauded under this name. But, when I remember that the St Mark of Papias cannot possibly be our St Mark, I feel bound to throw upon this assumption the full light of modern critical principles; and, so tested, it proves to be not only hasty and unwarrantable, but altogether absurd. It is only necessary to compare the statements of highly intellectual reviewers with the work itself; and every unprejudiced mind must be convinced that 'the evidence is fatal to the claims' involved in this identification. Out of five reviews or notices of the work which I have read, only one seems to refer to our _Supernatural Religion_. The other four are plainly dealing with some apocryphal work, bearing the same name and often using the same language, but in its main characteristics quite different from and much more authentic than the volumes before me.
1. It must be observed in the first place, that the reviewers agree in attributing to the work scholarship and criticism of the highest order. 'The author,' writes one, 'is a scientifically trained critic. He has learned to argue and to weigh evidence.' 'The book,' adds a second, 'proceeds from a man of ability, a scholar and a reasoner.' 'His scholarship,' says this same reviewer again, 'is apparent throughout.' 'Along with a wide and minute scholarship,' he writes in yet another place, 'the unknown writer shows great acuteness.' Again a third reviewer, of whose general tone, as well as of his criticisms on the first part of the work, I should wish to speak with the highest respect, praises the writer's 'searching and scholarly criticism.' Lastly a fourth reviewer attributes to the author 'careful and acute scholarship.' This testimony is explicit, and it comes from four different quarters. It is moreover confirmed by the rumour already mentioned, which assigned the work to a bishop who has few rivals among his contemporaries as a scholar and a critic.
Now, since the documents which our author has undertaken to discuss are written almost wholly in the Greek and Latin languages, it may safely be assumed that under the term 'scholarship' the reviewers included an adequate knowledge of these languages. Starting from this as an axiom which will not be disputed, I proceed to inquire what we find in the work itself, which will throw any light on this point.
The example, which I shall take first, relates to a highly important passage of Irenśus [3:1], containing a reference in some earlier authority, whom this father quotes, to a saying of our Lord recorded only in St John's Gospel. The passage begins thus:--
'As the elders say, then also shall those deemed worthy of the abode in heaven depart thither; and others shall enjoy the delights of paradise; and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they that see Him shall be worthy.'
Then follows the important paragraph which is translated differently by our author [4:1] and by Dr Westcott [4:2]. For reasons which will appear immediately, I place the two renderings side by side:--
WESTCOTT. | SUPERNATURAL RELIGION.
'This distinction of dwelling, | 'But there is to be this
they taught, exists between | distinction [4:4] of dwelling
those who brought forth a | ([Greek: einai de tÍn diastolÍn
hundred-fold, and those who | tautÍn tÍs oikÍseŰs]) of those bearing
brought forth sixty-fold, and | fruit the hundred-fold, and of the
those who brought forth | (bearers of) the sixty-fold, and of
twenty-fold (Matt. xiii. 8)... | the (bearers of) the thirty-fold: of
| whom some indeed shall be taken up
| into the heavens, some shall live
And it was for this reason | in Paradise, and some shall
the Lord said that _in His | inhabit the City, and for that
Father's House_ ([Greek: en | reason ([Greek: dia touto]--
tois tou patros]) _are many | _propter hoc_) the Lord declared
mansions_ (John xiv. 2).' | many mansions to be in the (heavens) [4:3]
| of my Father ([Greek: en tois tou
| patros mou monas einai pollas]), etc.'
On this extract our author remarks that 'it is impossible for any one who attentively considers the whole of this passage and who makes himself acquainted with the manner in which Irenśus conducts his argument, and interweaves it with texts of Scripture, to doubt that the phrase we are considering is introduced by Irenśus himself, and is in no case a quotation from the work of Papias [5:1].' As regards the relation of this quotation from the Fourth Gospel to Papias any remarks, which I have to make, must be deferred for the present [5:2]; but on the other point I venture to say that any fairly trained schoolboy will feel himself constrained by the rules of Greek grammar to deny what our author considers it 'impossible' even 'to doubt.' He himself is quite unconscious of the difference between the infinitive and the indicative, or in other words between the oblique and the direct narrative; and so he boldly translates [Greek: einai tÍn diastolÍn] as though it were [Greek: estai] (or [Greek: mellei einai]) [Greek: hÍ diastolÍ], and [Greek: eirÍkenai ton Kurion] as though it were [Greek: eirÍken ho Kurios]. This is just as if a translator from a German original were to persist in ignoring the difference between 'es sey' and 'es ist' and between 'der Herr sage' and 'der Herr sagt.' Yet so unconscious is our author of the real point at issue, that he proceeds to support his view by several other passages in which Irenśus 'interweaves' his own remarks, because they happen to contain the words [Greek: dia touto], though in every instance the indicative and _not the infinitive_ is used. To complete this feat of scholarship he proceeds to charge Dr Westcott with what 'amounts to a falsification of the text [5:3],' because this scholarly writer has inserted the words 'they taught' to show that in the original the sentence containing the reference to St John is in the oblique narrative and therefore reports the words of others [5:4]. I shall not retort this charge of 'falsification,' because I do not think that the cause of truth is served by imputing immoral motives to those from whom we differ; and indeed the context shows that our author is altogether blind to the grammatical necessity. But I would venture to ask whether it would not have been more prudent, as well as more seemly, if he had paused before venturing, under the shelter of an anonymous publication, to throw out this imputation of dishonesty against a writer of singular candour and moderation, who has at least given to the world the hostage and the credential of an honoured name. It is necessary to add that our author persists in riveting this grammatical error on himself. He returns to the charge again in two later footnotes [6:1] and declares himself to have shown 'that it [the reference to the Fourth Gospel] must be referred to Irenśus himself, and that there is no ground for attributing it to the Presbyters at all.' 'Most critics,' he continues, 'admit the uncertainty [6:2].' As it will be my misfortune hereafter to dispute not a few propositions which 'most critics' are agreed in maintaining, it is somewhat reassuring to find that they are quite indifferent to the most elementary demands of grammar [6:3].
The passage just discussed has a vital bearing on the main question at issue, the date of the Fourth Gospel. The second example which I shall take, though less important, is not without its value. As in the former instance our author showed his indifference to moods, so here he is equally regardless of tenses. He is discussing the heathen Celsus, who shows an acquaintance with the Evangelical narratives, and whose date therefore it is not a matter of indifference to ascertain. Origen, in the preface to his refutation of Celsus, distinctly states that this person had been long dead ([Greek: ÍdÍ kai palai nekron]). In his first book again he confesses his ignorance who this Celsus was, but is disposed to identify him with a person of the name known to have flourished about a century before his own time [7:1]. But at the close of the last book [7:2], addressing his friend Ambrosius who had sent him the work, and at whose instance he had undertaken the refutation, he writes (or rather, he is represented by our author as writing) as follows:--
'Know, however, that Celsus has promised to write another treatise after this one.... If, therefore, he has not fulfilled his promise to write a second book, we may well be satisfied with the eight books in reply to his Discourse. If however, he has commenced and finished this work also, seek it and send it in order that we may answer it also, and confute the false teaching in it etc.' [7:3]
On the strength of the passage so translated, our author supposes that Origen's impression concerning the date of Celsus had meanwhile been 'considerably modified', and remarks that he now 'treats him as a contemporary'. Unfortunately however, the tenses, on which everything depends, are freely handled in this translation. Origen does not say, 'Celsus _has promised_,' but 'Celsus _promises_' ([Greek: epangellomenon]), _i.e._ in the treatise before him, for Origen's knowledge was plainly derived from the book itself. And again, he does not say 'If he _has not fulfilled_ his promise to write', but 'If he _did not write_ as he undertook to do' ([Greek: egrapsen huposchomenos]); nor 'if he _has commenced and finished_', but 'if he _commenced and finished_' ([Greek: arxamenos sunetelese]) [7:4]. Thus Origen's language itself here points to a past epoch, and is in strict accordance with the earlier passages in his work.
These two examples have been chosen, not because they are by any means the worst specimens of our author's Greek, but because in both cases an elaborate argument is wrecked on this rock of grammar. If any reader is curious to see how he can drive his ploughshare through a Greek sentence, he may refer for instance to the translations of Basilides (II. p. 46) [8:1], or of Valentinus (II. p. 63) [8:2], or of Philo (II. p. 265 sq) [8:3]. Or he may draw his inferences from such renderings as [Greek; ho logos edÍlou], 'Scripture declares,' [8:4] or [Greek: kata korrÍs propÍlakizein], [8:5] 'to inflict a blow on one side'; or from such perversions of meaning as 'did no wrong,' twice repeated [8:6] as a translation of [Greek: ouden hÍmarte] in an important passage of Papias relating to St Mark, where this Father really means that the Evangelist, though his narrative was not complete, yet 'made no mistake' in what he did record.
Nor does our author's Latin fare any better than his Greek, as may be inferred from the fact that he can translate 'nihil tamen differt credentium fidei,' 'nothing nevertheless differs in the faith of believers,' [8:7] instead of 'it makes no difference to the faith of believers,' thus sacrificing sense and grammar alike [8:8]. Or it is still better illustrated by the following example:--
'Nam ex iis commentatoribus | 'For of the Commentators
quos habemus, Lucam videtur | whom we possess, Marcion seems
Marcion elegisse quem caederet.' | (_videtur_) to have selected Luke,
Tertull. _adv. Marc._ iv. 2. | which he mutilates.' _S.R._
| II. p. 99. [8:9]
Here again tenses and moods are quite indifferent, an imperfect subjunctive being treated as a present indicative; while at the same time our author fails to perceive that the "commentatores" are the Evangelists themselves. His mind seems to be running on the Commentaries of De Wette and Alford, and he has forgotten the Commentaries of Cśsar [9:1].
Having shown that the author does not possess the elementary knowledge which is indispensable in a critical scholar, I shall not stop to inquire how far he exhibits those higher qualifications of a critic, which are far more rare--whether for instance he has the discriminating tact and nice balance of judgment necessary for such a work, or whether again he realizes how men in actual life do speak and write now, and might be expected to speak and write sixteen or seventeen centuries ago--without which qualifications the most painful study and reproduction of German and Dutch criticism is valueless. These qualifications cannot be weighed or measured, and I must trust to my subsequent investigations to put the reader in possession of data for forming a judgment on these points. At present it will be sufficient to remark that a scholarly writer might at least be expected not to contradict himself on a highly important question of Biblical criticism. Yet this is what our author does. Speaking of the descent of the angel at the pool of Bethesda (John v. 3, 4) in his first part, he writes: 'The passage is not found in the older MSS of the Fourth Gospel, and it was probably a later interpolation.' [9:2] But, having occasion towards the end of his work to refer again to this same passage, he entirely forgets his previously expressed opinion, and is very positive on the other side. 'We must believe,' he writes, 'that this passage did originally belong to the text, and has from an early period been omitted from the MSS on account of the difficulty it presents.' [10:1] And, to make the contradiction more flagrant, he proceeds to give a reason why the disputed words must have formed part of the original text.
It must be evident by this time to any 'impartial mind,' that the _Supernatural Religion_ of the reviewers cannot be our _Supernatural Religion_. The higher criticism has taught me that poor foolish Papias, an extreme specimen of 'the most deplorable carelessness and want of critical judgment' displayed by the Fathers on all occasions, cannot possibly have had our St Mark's Gospel before him [10:2], because he says that his St Mark recorded only 'some' of our Lord's sayings and doings, and did not record them in order (though by the way no one maintains that everything said and done by Christ is recorded in our Second Gospel, or that the events follow in strict chronological sequence); and how then is it possible to resist the conclusion, which is forced upon the mind by the concurrent testimony of so many able reviewers, the leaders of intellectual thought in this critical nineteenth century, to the consummate scholarship of the writer, that they must be referring to a different recension, probably more authentic and certainly far more satisfactory than the book which lies before me?
2. And the difficulty of the popular identification will be found to increase as the investigation proceeds. There is a second point, also, on which our critics are unanimous. Our first reviewer describes the author as 'scrupulously exact in stating the arguments of adversaries.' Our fourth reviewer uses still stronger language: 'The author with excellent candour places before us the materials on which a judgment must rest, with great fulness and perfect impartiality.' The testimony of the other two, though not quite so explicit, tends in the same direction. 'An earnest seeker after truth,' says the second reviewer, 'looking around at all particulars pertaining to his inquiries.' 'The account given in the volume we are noticing,' writes the third, 'is a perfect mine of information on this subject, alloyed indeed with no small prejudice, yet so wonderfully faithful and comprehensive that an error may be detected by the light of the writer's own searching and scholarly criticism.'
Now this is not the characteristic of the book before me. The author does indeed single out from time to time the weaker arguments of 'apologetic' writers, and on these he dwells at great length; but their weightier facts and lines of reasoning are altogether ignored by him, though they often occur in the same books and even in the same contexts which he quotes. This charge will, I believe, be abundantly substantiated as I proceed. At present I shall do no more than give a few samples.
Our author charges the Epistle ascribed to Polycarp with an anachronism [11:1], because, though in an earlier passage St Ignatius is assumed to be dead, 'in chap. xiii he is spoken of as living, and information is requested regarding him "and those who are with him."' Why then does he not notice the answer which he might have found in any common source of information, that when the Latin version (the Greek is wanting here) 'de his qui cum eo sunt' is retranslated into the original language, [Greek: tois sun autŰ], the 'anachronism' altogether disappears? [11:2] Again, when he devotes more than forty pages to the discussion of Papias [11:3], why does he not even mention the view maintained by Dr Westcott and others (and certainly suggested by a strict interpretation of Papias' own words), that this father's object in his 'Exposition' was not to construct a new evangelical narrative, but to interpret and illustrate by oral tradition one already lying before him in written documents? [11:4] This view, if correct, entirely alters the relation of Papias to the written Gospels; and its discussion was a matter of essential importance to the main question at issue. Again, when he reproduces the TŁbingen fallacy respecting 'the strong prejudice' of Hegesippus against St Paul [12:1], and quotes the often-quoted passage from Stephanus Gobarus, in which this writer refers to the language of Hegesippus condemning the use of the words, 'Eye hath not seen, etc.', why does he not state that these words were employed by heretical teachers to justify their rites of initiation, and consequently 'apologetic' writers contend that Hegesippus refers to the words, not as used by St Paul, but as misapplied by these heretics? Since, according to the TŁbingen interpretation, this single notice contradicts everything else which we know of the opinions of Hegesippus [12:2], the view of 'apologists' might perhaps have been worth a moment's consideration. And again, in the elaborate examination of Justin Martyr's evangelical quotations [12:3], in which he had Credner's careful analysis to guide him, and which therefore is quite the most favourable specimen of his critical work, our author frequently refers to Dr Westcott's book to censure it, and many comparatively insignificant points are discussed at great length. Why then does he not once mention Dr Westcott's argument founded on the looseness of Justin Martyr's quotations from the Old Testament, as throwing some light on the degree of accuracy which he might be expected to show in quoting the Gospels? [12:4] The former Justin supposed to be (as one of the reviewers expresses it) 'almost automatically inspired,' whereas he took a much larger view of the inspiration of the evangelical narratives. A reader fresh from the perusal of _Supernatural Religion_ will have his eyes opened as to the character of Justin's mind, when he turns to Dr Westcott's book, and finds how Justin interweaves, mis-names, and mis-quotes passages from the Old Testament. It cannot be said that these are unimportant points. In every instance which I have selected these omitted considerations vitally affect the main question at issue.
Our fourth reviewer however uses the words which I have already quoted, 'excellent candour,' 'great fulness,' 'perfect impartiality,' with special reference to the part of the work relating to the authorship and character of the Fourth Gospel, which he describes as 'a piece of keen and solid reasoning.' This is quite decisive. Our author might have had his own grounds for ignoring the arguments of 'apologetic' writers, or he may have been ignorant of them. For reasons which will appear presently, the latter alternative ought probably to be adopted as explaining some omissions. But however this may be, the language of the reviewer is quite inapplicable to the work lying before me. It may be candid in the sense of being honestly meant, but it is not candid in any other sense; and it is the very reverse of full and impartial. The arguments of 'apologetic' writers are systematically ignored in this part of the work. Once or twice indeed he fastens on passages from such writers, that he may make capital of them; but their main arguments remain wholly unnoticed. Why, for instance, when he says of the Fourth Gospel that 'instead of the fierce and intolerant temper of the Son of Thunder, we find a spirit breathing forth nothing but gentleness and love,' [13:1] does he forget to add that 'apologists' have pointed to such passages as 'Ye are of your father the devil,' as a refutation of this statement--passages far more 'intolerant' than anything recorded in the Synoptic Gospels? [13:2] Why again, when he asserts that 'allusion is undoubtedly made to' St Paul in the words of the Apocalypse, 'them that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols [14:1],' does he forget to mention that St Paul himself uses this same chapter in Jewish history as a warning to those free-thinkers and free-livers, who eat things sacrificed to idols, regardless of the scandal which their conduct might create, and thus, so far from a direct antagonism, there is a substantial agreement between the two Apostles on this point? [14:2] Why, when he is endeavouring to minimize, if not to deny, the Hebraic [14:3] character of the Fourth Gospel, does he wholly ignore the investigations of Luthardt and others, which (as 'apologists' venture to think) show that the whole texture of the language in the Fourth Gospel is Hebraic? Why again, when he alludes to 'the minuteness of details' [14:4] in this Gospel as alleged in defence of its authenticity, is he satisfied with this mere caricature of the 'apologetic' argument? Having set up a man of straw, he has no difficulty in knocking him down. He has only to declare that 'the identification of an eye-witness by details is absurd.' It would have been more to the purpose if he had boldly grappled with such arguments as he might have found in Mr Sanday's book for instance [15:1]; arguments founded not on the minuteness of details, but on the thorough naturalness with which the incidents develop themselves, on the subtle and inobtrusive traits of character which appear in the speakers, on the local colouring which is inseparably interwoven with the narrative, on the presence of strictly Jewish (as distinguished from Christian) ideas, more especially Messianic ideas, which saturate the speeches, and the like. And, if he could have brought forward any parallel to all this in the literature of the time, or could even have shown a reasonable probability that such a fiction might have been produced in an age which (as we are constantly reminded) was singularly inappreciative and uncritical in such matters, and which certainly has not left any evidence of a genius for realism, for its highest conception of romance-writing does not rise above the stiffness of the Clementines or the extravagance of the Protevangelium--if he could have done this, he would at least have advanced his argument a step [15:2]. Why again, when he is emphasizing the differences between the Apocalypse and the Fourth Gospel, does he content himself with stating 'that some apologetic writers' are 'satisfied by the analogies which could scarcely fail to exist between two works dealing with a similar (!) theme,' [15:3] without mentioning for the benefit of the reader some of these analogies, as for instance, that our Lord is styled the Word of God in these two writings, and these alone, of the New Testament? He recurs more than once to the doctrine of the Logos, as exhibited in the Gospel, but again he is silent about the presence of this nomenclature in the Apocalypse [15:4]. Why, when he contrasts the Christology of the Synoptic Gospels with the Christology of St John [15:5], does he not mention that 'apologists' quote in reply our Lord's words in Matt. xi. 27 sq, 'All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whom soever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'? This one passage, they assert, covers the characteristic teaching of the Fourth Gospel, and hitherto they have not been answered. Again, our author says very positively that the Synoptics clearly represent the ministry of Jesus as having been limited to a single year, and his preaching is confined to Galilee and Jerusalem, where his career culminates at the fatal Passover;' thus contrasting with the Fourth Gospel, which 'distributes the teaching of Jesus between Galilee, Samaria, and Jerusalem, makes it extend at least over three years, and refers to three Passovers spent by Jesus at Jerusalem.' [16:1] Why then does he not add that 'apologetic' writers refer to such passages as Matt. xxiii. 37 (comp. Luke xiii. 34), 'O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem,... _how often_ would I have gathered thy children together'? Here the expression 'how often,' it is contended, obliges us to postulate other visits, probably several visits, to Jerusalem, which are not recorded in the Synoptic Gospels themselves. And it may be suggested also that the twice-repeated notice of time in the context of St Luke, 'I do cures _to-day and to-morrow, and the third day_ I shall be perfected,' 'I must walk _to-day and to-morrow and the day following_,' points to the very duration of our Lord's ministry, as indicated by the Fourth Gospel [16:2]. If so, the coincidence is the more remarkable, because it does not appear that St Luke himself, while recording these prophetic words, was aware of their full historical import. But whatever may be thought of this last point, the contention of 'apologetic' writers is that here, as elsewhere, the Fourth Gospel supplies the key to historical difficulties in the Synoptic narratives, which are not unlocked in the course of those narratives themselves, and this fact increases their confidence in its value as an authentic record [16:3].
Again: he refers several times to the Paschal controversy of the second century as bearing on the authorship of the Fourth Gospel. On one occasion he devotes two whole pages to it. [17:1] Why then does he not mention that 'apologetic' writers altogether deny what he states to be absolutely certain; maintaining on the contrary that the Christian Passover, celebrated by the Asiatic Churches on the 14th Nisan, commemorated not the Institution of the Lord's Supper, but, as it naturally would, the Sacrifice on the Cross, and asserting that the main dispute between the Asiatic and Roman Churches had reference to the question whether the commemoration should take place always on the 14th Nisan (irrespective of the day of the week) or always on a Friday? Thus, they claim the Paschal controversy as a witness on their own side. This view may be right or wrong; but inasmuch as any person might read the unusually full account of the controversy in Eusebius from beginning to end, without a suspicion that the alternative of the 14th or 15th Nisan, as the day of the Crucifixion, entered into the dispute at all, the _onus probandi_ rests with our author, and his stout assertions were certainly needed to supply the place of arguments. [17:2]
The same reticence or ignorance respecting the arguments of 'apologetic' writers is noticeable also when he deals with the historical and geographical allusions in the Fourth Gospel. If by any chance he condescends to discuss a question, he takes care to fasten on the least likely solution of 'apologists' (_e.g._ the identification of Sychar and Shechem), [17:3] omitting altogether to notice others [18:1]. But as a rule, he betrays no knowledge whatever of his adversaries' arguments. One instance will suffice to illustrate his mode of procedure. Referring to the interpretation of Siloam as 'sent,' in John ix. 7, he stigmatizes this as 'a distinct error,' because the word signifies 'a spring, a fountain, a flow of water;' and he adds that 'a foreigner with a slight knowledge of the language is misled by the superficial analogy of sound [18:2].' Does he not know (his Gesenius will teach him this) that Siloam signifies a fountain, or rather, an aqueduct, a conduit, like the Latin _emissarium_, because it is derived from the Hebrew _shalach_ 'to send'? and if he does know it, why has he left his readers entirely in the dark on this subject? As the word is much disguised in its Greek dress (_Siloam_ for _Shiloach_), the knowledge of its derivation is not unimportant, and 'apologists' claim to have this item of evidence transferred to their side of the account. Any one disposed to retaliate upon our author for his habitual reticence would find in these volumes, ready made for his purpose, a large assortment of convenient phrases ranging from 'discreet reserve' to 'wilful and deliberate evasion.' I do not intend to yield to this temptation. But the reader will have drawn his own conclusions from this recklessness of assault in one whose own armour is gaping at every joint.
But indeed, when he does stoop to notice the arguments of 'apologetic' writers, he is not always successful in apprehending their meaning.
Thus he writes of the unnamed disciple, the assumed author of the Fourth Gospel:--
'The assumption that the disciple thus indicated is John, rests principally on the fact that whilst the author mentions the other Apostles, he seems studiously to avoid directly naming John, and also that he only once [18:3] distinguishes John the Baptist by the appellation [Greek: ho baptistÍs], whilst he carefully distinguishes the two disciples of the name of Judas, and always speaks of the Apostle Peter as 'Simon Peter,' or 'Peter,' or but rarely as 'Simon' only. Without pausing to consider the slightness of this evidence, etc.' [19:1]
Now the fact is, that the Fourth Evangelist never once distinguishes this John as 'the Baptist,' though such is his common designation in the other Gospels; and the only person, in whom the omission would be natural, is his namesake John the son of Zebedee. Hence 'apologists' lay great stress on this fact, as an evidence all the more valuable, because it lies below the surface, and they urge with force, that this subtle indication of authorship is inconceivable as the literary device of a forger in the second century. We cannot wonder, however, if our author considers this evidence so slight that he will not even pause upon it, when he has altogether distorted it by a mis-statement of fact. But it is instructive to trace his error to its source. Turning to Credner, to whom the author gives a reference in a footnote, I find this writer stating that the Fourth Evangelist
'Has not found it necessary to distinguish John the Baptist from the Apostle John his namesake _even so much as once_ (auch nur ein einziges Mal) by the addition [Greek: ho baptistÍs].' [19:2]
So then our author has stumbled over that little word 'nur,' and his German has gone the way of his Greek and his Latin [19:3]. But the error is instructive from another point of view. This argument happens to be a commonplace of 'apologists.' How comes it then, that he was not set right by one or other of these many writers, even if he could not construe Credner's German? Clearly this cannot be the work which the reviewers credit with an 'exhaustive' knowledge of the literature of the subject. I may be asked indeed to explain how, on this theory of mistaken identity which I here put forward, the work reviewed by the critics came to be displaced by the work before me, so that no traces of the original remain. But this I altogether decline to do, and I plead authority for refusing. 'The merely negative evidence that our actual [_Supernatural Religion_] is not the work described by [the Reviewers] is sufficient for our purpose.' [20:1]
3. But the argument is strengthened when we come to consider a third point. 'The author's discussions,' writes our first reviewer, 'are conducted in a judicial method.' 'He has the critical faculty in union with a calm spirit.' 'Calm and judicial in tone,' is the verdict of our second reviewer. The opinion of our third and fourth reviewers on this part may be gathered not so much from what they say as from what they leave unsaid. A fifth reviewer however, who seems certainly to have had our _Supernatural Religion_ before him, holds different language. He rebukes the author--with wonderful gentleness, considering the gravity of the offence--for 'now and then losing patience.'
Now whether calmness of tone can be said to distinguish a work which bristles with such epithets as 'monstrous,' 'impossible,' 'audacious,' 'preposterous,' 'absurd;' whether the habit of reiterating as axiomatic truths what at the very best are highly precarious hypotheses--as, for instance, that Papias did not refer to our St Mark's Gospel--does not savour more of the vehemence of the advocate than of the impartiality of the judge, I must ask the reader to decide for himself. But of the highly discreditable practice of imputing corrupt motives to those who differ from us there cannot be two opinions. We have already seen how a righteous nemesis has overtaken our author, and he has covered himself with confusion, while recklessly flinging a charge of 'falsification' at another. Unfortunately however that passage does not stand alone. I will not take up the reader's time with illustrations of a practice, of which we have seen more than enough already. But there is one example which is sufficiently instructive to deserve quoting. Dr Westcott writes of Basilides as follows:--
'At the same time, he appealed to the authority of Glaucias, who, as well as St Mark, was "an interpreter of St. Peter."' [21:1]
The inverted commas are given here as they appear in Dr Westcott's book. It need hardly be said that Dr Westcott is simply illustrating the statement of Basilides that Glaucias was an interpreter of St Peter by the similar statement of Papias and others that St Mark was an interpreter of the same apostle--a very innocent piece of information, one would suppose. On this passage however our author remarks:--
'Now we have here again an illustration of the same misleading system which we have already condemned, and shall further refer to, in the introduction after 'Glaucias' of the words '_who as well as St Mark was_ an interpreter of St Peter.' The words in italics are the gratuitous addition of Canon Westcott himself, and can only have been inserted for one of two purposes: (I) to assert the fact that Glaucias was actually an interpreter of Peter, as tradition represented Mark to be; or (II) to insinuate to unlearned readers that Basilides himself acknowledged Mark as well as Glaucias as the interpreter of Peter. We can hardly suppose the first to have been the intention, and we regret to be forced back upon the second, and infer that the temptation to weaken the inferences from the appeal of Basilides to the uncanonical Glaucias, by coupling with it the allusion to Mark, was [unconsciously, no doubt] too strong for the apologist.' [21:2]
Dr Westcott's honour may safely be left to take care of itself. It stands far too high to be touched by insinuations like these. I only call attention to the fact that our author has removed Dr Westcott's inverted commas [22:1], and then founded on the passage so manipulated a charge of unfair dealing, which could only be sustained in their absence, and which even then no one but himself would have thought of. I will not retort upon our author the charge of 'deliberate falsification,' which he so freely levels at others, for I do not believe that he had any such intention. The lesson suggested by this highly characteristic passage is of another kind. It exemplifies the elaborate looseness which pervades the critical portion of this book. It illustrates the author's inability to look at things in a straightforward way. It emphasizes more especially the suspicious temper of the work, which makes it, as even a favourable reviewer has said, 'painfully sceptical'--a temper which must necessarily vitiate all the processes of criticism, and which, if freely humoured elsewhere, would render life intolerable and history impossible [22:2].
It is difficult to see what end the author proposed to attain by all this literary browbeating. In the course of my examination I shall be constrained to adopt many a view which has been denounced beforehand as impossible and absurd; and I shall give my reasons for doing so. If by an 'apologist' [22:3] is meant one who knows that he owes everything which is best and truest in himself to the teaching of Christianity--not the Christless Christianity which alone our author would spare, the works with the mainspring broken, but the Christianity of the Apostles and Evangelists--who believes that its doctrines, its sanctions, and its hopes, are truths of the highest moment to the wellbeing of mankind, and who, knowing and believing all this, is ready to use in its defence such abilities as he has, then a man may be proud to take even the lowest place among the ranks of 'apologists,' and to brave any insinuations of dishonesty which an anonymous critic may fling at him.
There is however another more subtle mode of intimidation which plays an important part in these volumes. Long lists of references are given in the notes, to modern critics who (as the reader would infer from the mode of reference) support the views mentioned or adopted by the author in the text. I have verified these references in one or two cases, and have found that several writers, at all events, do not hold the opinions to which their names are attached [23:1]. But, under any circumstances, these lists will not fetter the judgment of any thoughtful mind. It is strange indeed, that a writer who denounces so strongly the influence of authority as represented by tradition, should be anxious to impose on his readers another less honourable yoke. There is at least a presumption (though in individual cases it may prove false on examination) that the historical sense of seventeen or eighteen centuries is larger and truer than the critical insight of a section of men in one late half century. The idols of our cave never present themselves in a more alluring form than when they appear as the 'spirit of the age.' It is comparatively easy to resist the fallacies of past times, but it is most difficult to escape the infection of the intellectual atmosphere in which we live. I ask myself, for instance, whether one who lived in the age of the rabbis would have been altogether right in resigning himself to the immediate current of intellectual thought, because he saw, or seemed to see, that it was setting strongly in one direction.
This comparison is not without its use. Here were men eminently learned, painstaking, minute; eminently ingenious also, and in a certain sense, eminently critical. In accumulating and assorting facts--such facts as lay within their reach--and in the general thoroughness of their work, the rabbis of Jewish exegesis might well bear comparison with the rabbis of neologian criticism. They reigned supreme in their own circles for a time; their work has not been without its fruits; many useful suggestions have gone to swell the intellectual and moral inheritance of later ages; but their characteristic teaching, which they themselves would have regarded as their chief claim to immortality, has long since been consigned to oblivion. It might be minute and searching, but it was conceived in a false vein; it was essentially unhistorical, and therefore it could not live. The modern negative school of criticism seems to me to be equally perverse and unreal, though in a different way; and therefore I anticipate for it the same fate.
Mr Matthew Arnold, alluding to an eccentric work of rationalizing tendencies written by an English scholar, and using M. Renan as his mouthpiece, expresses the opinion that 'an extravagance of this sort could never have come from Germany where there is a great force of critical opinion controlling a learned man's vagaries, and keeping him straight.' [24:1] I confess that my experiences of the critical literature of Germany have not been so fortunate. It would be difficult, I think, to find among English scholars any parallel to the mass of absurdities, which several intelligent and very learned German critics have conspired to heap upon two simple names in the Philippian Epistle, Euodia and Syntyche; first, Baur suggesting that the pivot of the Epistle, which has a conciliatory tendency, is the mention of Clement, a mythical or almost mythical person, who represents the union of the Petrine and Pauline parties in the Church [24:2]; then Schwegler, carrying the theory a step further, and declaring that the two names, Euodia and Syntyche, actually represent these two parties, while the true yoke-fellow is St Peter himself [24:3]; then Volkmar, improving the occasion, and showing that this fact is indicated in their very names, Euodia, or 'Rightway,' and Syntyche or 'Consort,' denoting respectively the orthodoxy of the one party and the incorporation of the other [24:4]; lastly, Hitzig lamenting that interpreters of the New Testament are not more thoroughly imbued with the language and spirit of the Old, and maintaining that these two names are reproductions of the patriarchs Asher and Gad--their sex having been changed in the transition from one language to another--and represent the Greek and Roman elements in the Church, while the Epistle to the Philippians itself is a plagiarism from the Agricola of Tacitus [25:1]. When therefore I find our author supporting some of his more important judgments by the authority of 'Hitzig, Volkmar and others,' or of 'Volkmar and others,' [25:2] I have my own opinion of the weight which such names should carry with them [25:3].
It is not however against the eccentricities of individuals except so far as these can be charged to a vicious atmosphere and training, that I would rest the chief stress of my complaint. The whole tone and spirit of the school in its excess of scepticism must, I venture to think, be fatal to the ends of true criticism. A reviewer of _Supernatural Religion_ compares the author's handling of the reconstructive efforts of certain conservative critics regarding the Fourth Gospel to Sir G.C. Lewis's objections to Niebuhr's 'equally arbitrary reconstruction of early Roman history.' From one point of view this comparison is instructive. We have no means of testing the value of that eminent writer's negative criticisms of early Roman history. But where additional knowledge has enabled us to apply a test to his opinions, as, for instance, respecting the interpretation of the Egyptian hieroglyphic language, we find that his scepticism led him signally astray. It seems to be assumed that, because the sceptical spirit has its proper function in scientific inquiry (though even here its excesses will often impede progress), therefore its exercise is equally useful and equally free from danger in the domain of criticism. A moment's reflection however will show that the cases are wholly different. In whatever relates to morals and history--in short, to human life in all its developments-- where mathematical or scientific demonstration is impossible, and where consequently everything depends on the even balance of the judicial faculties, scepticism must be at least as fatal to the truth as credulity.
The author of _Supernatural Religion_ proposes to himself the task of demonstrating that the miraculous element in Christianity is a delusion. The work is divided into three parts. The first part undertakes to prove that miracles are not only highly improbable, but antecedently incredible, so that no amount of testimony can overcome the objections to them. As a subsidiary aim, he endeavours to show that the sort of evidence, which, under the most favourable circumstances, we should be likely to obtain in the early Christian ages, ought not to inspire confidence. The second and third parts are occupied in examining the actual witnesses themselves, that is, the four Gospels; the second being devoted to the Synoptists, and the third to St John. The main contention is that the four Gospels are entirely devoid of evidence sufficient to satisfy us of their date and authorship, considering the momentous import of their contents. These portions of the work therefore are chiefly occupied in examining the external testimonies to the authenticity and genuineness of the Gospels. In the case of St John the internal character of the document is likewise subjected to examination.
Obviously, if the author has established his conclusions in the first part, the second and third are altogether superfluous [27:1]. It is somewhat strange, therefore, that more than three-fourths of the whole work should be devoted to this needless task. Impressed, as it would seem, by the elaboration of these portions, reviewers have singled them out for special praise, even when they have condemned the first as unsatisfactory. With this estimate of their value I find myself altogether unable to agree; and in the articles which will follow I hope to give my reasons for dissenting. Regarded as a handbook of the critical fallacies of the modern destructive school, _Supernatural Religion_ well deserves examination.
For this reason I shall hereafter occupy myself solely with the two latter portions of the work, and more especially with the external evidences of the Gospels; but there is one point, affecting the main question at issue, which it is impossible to pass over in silence. Anyone who, with the arguments of the first part fresh in his memory, will turn to the final chapter, in which the author gives a confession of faith, must be struck with the startling dislocation between the principles from which the work starts and the manifesto with which it concludes. Our author has eliminated, as he believes, the miraculous or supernatural element from the Gospel. He will have nothing to say to 'Ecclesiastical Christianity,' by which strange phrase is meant the Christianity of the Apostles and Evangelists. He will not even hear of a future life with its hopes and fears [27:1]. He will purge the Gospel of all 'dogmas,' and will present it as an ethical system alone. The extreme beauty, I might almost say the absolute perfection, of Christ's moral teaching [27:2] he not only allows, but insists upon. 'Morality,' he adds, 'was the essence of his system; theology was an after-thought.' [27:3] And yet almost in the same breath he adopts as his 'two fundamental principles, Love to God and love to man.' He commends a 'morality based upon the earnest and intelligent acceptance of Divine Law, and perfect recognition of the brotherhood of man,' as 'the highest conceivable by humanity.' [27:4] He speaks of the 'purity of heart which alone "sees God.'" [27:5] He enforces the necessity of 'rising to higher conceptions of an infinitely wise and beneficent Being ... whose laws of wondrous comprehensiveness and perfection we ever perceive in operation around us.' [28:1] All this is well said, but is it consistent? This universal 'brotherhood of man,' what is it but a 'dogma' of the most comprehensive application? This 'Love to God' springing from the apprehension of a 'wondrous perfection,' and the recognition of an 'infinitely wise and beneficent Being,'--in short, this belief in a Heavenly Father, which on any showing was the fundamental axiom of our Lord's teaching, and which our author thus accepts as a cardinal article in his own creed,--what is it but a theological proposition of the most overwhelming import, before which all other 'dogmas' sink into insignificance?
And what room, we are forced to ask, has he left for such a dogma? In the first portion of the work our author has been careful not to define his position. He has studiously avoided committing himself to a belief in a universal Father or a moral Governor, or even in a Personal God. If he had done so, he would have tied his hands at once. Very much of the reasoning which he brings forward against the miraculous element in Christianity in answer to Dr Mozley and Dean Mansel falls to the ground when this proposition is assumed. His arguments prove nothing, because they prove too much: for they are equally efficacious, or equally inefficacious, against the doctrine of a Divine providence or of human responsibility, as they are against the resurrection of Christ. The truth is, that when our author closes his work, he cannot face the conclusions to which his premisses would inevitably lead him. They are too startling for himself, as well as for his readers, in their naked deformity; and with a noble inconsistency he clutches at these 'dogmas' to save himself from sinking into the abyss of moral scepticism.
Mr J.S. Mill's inexorable logic may not be without its use, as holding up the mirror to such inconsistency. On his own narrow premisses this eminent logician builds up his own narrow conclusions with remorseless rigour. Our author in his first part adopts this same narrow basis, and truly enough finds no resting-place for Christianity upon it, as indeed there is none for any theory of a providential government. But at the conclusion he tacitly and (as it would seem) quite unconsciously assumes a much wider standing-ground. If he had not done so, he himself would have been edged off his footing, and hurled down the precipice. A whole pack of 'pursuing wolves' [29:1] is upon him, far more ravenous than any which beset the path of the believers in revelation; and he has left himself no shelter. If he had commenced by defining what he meant by 'Nature' and 'Supernatural,' he might have avoided this inconsistency, though he must have sacrificed much of his argument to save his creed. As it is, he has unconsciously juggled with two senses of Nature. Nature in the first part, where he is arguing against miracles, is the aggregate of external phenomena--the same Nature against which Mr Mill prefers his terrible indictment for its cruelty and injustice. But Nature in the concluding chapter involves the idea of a moral Governor and a beneficent Father; and this idea can only be introduced by opening flood-gates of thought which refuse to be closed just at the moment when it is necessary to bar the admission of the miraculous. Our author has ranged himself unconsciously with the 'intuitive philosophers,' of whom Mr Mill speaks so scornfully. He has appealed, though he does not seem to be aware of it, to the inner consciousness of man, to the instincts and cravings of humanity, to interpret and supplement the teachings of external Nature; and he is altogether unaware how large a concession he has made to believers in revelation by so doing.
Even though we should close our eyes to all other considerations, it is vain to ignore the inevitable moral consequences which flow from this mode of reasoning; for they are becoming every day more apparent. The demand is made that we should abandon our Christianity on grounds which logically involve the abandonment of any belief in the providential government of the world and in the moral responsibility of man. Young men are apt to be far more logical than their elders. Older persons are taught by long experience to distrust the adequacy of their premisses: consciously or unconsciously they supplement the narrow conclusions of their logic by larger lessons learnt from human life or from their own heart. But generally speaking, the young man has no such distrust. His teacher has appealed to Nature, and to Nature he shall go. The teacher becomes frightened, struggles to retrace his steps, and speaks of 'an infinitely wise and beneficent Being'; but the pupil insolently points out how
Nature, red in tooth and claw, With ravin, shrieks against his creed.
The teacher urges, 'All that is consistent with wise and omnipotent Law is prospered and brought to perfection:' [30:1] and the pupil replies: 'You have limited my horizon to this life, and in this life the facts do not verify your statement.' The teacher says, Believe that you--you personally--'are eternally cared for and governed by an omnipresent immutable power for which nothing is too great, nothing too insignificant.' [30:2] The pupil says: 'My Christianity did show me how this was possible; but with my Christianity I have cast it away as a delusion. I could not stop short at this point consistently with the principles you have laid down for my guidance. I have done as you told me to do; I have "ratified the fiat which maintains the order of Nature," [30:3] and I find Nature wholly
Careless of the single life.
I will therefore please myself henceforth.' The teacher speaks of 'the purity which alone sees God;' and to him the expression has a real meaning, for his mind is unconsciously saturated with ideas which he has certainly not learnt from his adopted philosophy: but to the pupil it has lost its articulate utterance, and is no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Hence the pupil, having thrown off his Christianity, too often follows out the principles of his teacher to their logical conclusions, and divests himself also of moral restraints, except so far as it may be convenient or necessary for him to submit to them. Happily this has not been the case hitherto in the large majority of instances. The permanence of habits formed in a nobler school of teaching, the abiding presence of a loftier ideal not derived from this new philosophy, and (we may add also) the voice of an inward witness whose authority is denied, but whose warnings nevertheless compel a hearing, all tend to raise the level of men's conduct above their principles. The full moral consequences of the teaching would only then be seen, if ever a generation should grow up, moulded altogether under its influences.
Anglican Library, This HTML edition copyright ©2001.