« PreviousContinue »
right and wrong, of the terrible dilemmas of conscience, they say nothing. They do not suffice for the half-starved operative, or the terribly-tempted man of business. The hero and the martyr would look in vain to them for inspiration, and dark temptations to hidden crime find in them no barrier. Perhaps Mr. Spencer would say that his ethics is only meant for a normal order, and express only the conditions of the ideal moral state, but in that case we are left without any ethics for the actual and abnormal. What are we tempted men and women to do here and now, where faithfulness often means loss and ruin, and where death is forever putting an end to all chances to “compromise?” We need guidance for our own action, and not for the good time coming. We believe, indeed, with Mr. Spencer, that the laws of righteousness are the conditions of social equilibrium, and in general of individual well-being. But while man endures men are dying, and in the present abnormal state of affairs the law of duty is often too large for earthly comfort. The Greek and Roman moralists saw this clearly. Aristotle has pointed out that virtue may lead to the “last things," to shame and torture and death, and, having no outlook upon the heavenly, he wavers as to what should be done in these extremities. What shall we do when, from an earthly stand-point, duty does not pay? Here is one of the antinomies of conscience. Reason and conscience alike insist that no law can be binding which does not exist for the good of all its subjects. When, then, duty appears too large for our earthly comfort, there is but one alternative: Either we must enlarge the life to fit the law, or we must cut down the law to fit the life. Christianity and the great masters in morals do the former. Mr. Spencer ought to do the latter ; but in general he ignores all these deeper questions and offers his sweetened-water theories with the most blissful confidence in their sufficiency. It would not be surprising, however, if some Spencerian should flame out at this point with some of the oldfashioned intuitional morality, and should affirm the eternal sacredness of duty apart from any consideration of consequences or of length of life; but such an exhibition would only be a new example of the illogical ways of the plexuses and the nascent motor excitations.
Thus we have outlined Mr. Spencer's ethical teachings. Upon the whole, we cannot think highly of them. The old epigram applies perfectly, the new is not good, and the good is not new. But by the aid of an inflated terminology he has succeeded in giving an air of novelty to familiar commonplaces. He has made some excellent, and more mistaken, criticisms of other ethical views. If when he had finished he had directed the same critical attention upon his own theory, the results would have been highly beneficial. The “ Data of Ethics” would probably have remained unpublished, that is, of course, if the plexuses and the nascent motor excitations would have let logic have its way. Perhaps in another article we may attempt some detailed criticism, under favor, that is, of the editor as well as of the excitations.
Art. III. - THE FRENCH REFORMED CHURCH, ITS SYNOD OF 1872 AND SUBSEQUENT EVENTS.
[SECOND ARTICLE.] * In our preceding article we saw the opening of the National Synod convoked by the decree of November 29, 1872. At present we shall briefly consider the proceedings of the Synod, the subsequent attitude of the two parties in the Church, and the recent status of French Protestantism in the matter of education and evangelization, with a word concerning its prospects.
I. THE DEBATES AND CONCLUSIONS OF THE SYNOD.
Besides the official report, we have from M. Bersier a valuable account of these proceedings. The session of the Synod extended from June 6 to July 10. Aside from the details of a new organic law, three main questions arose for determination. First, The competency of the present Synod to act as the supreme authority of the Church. Second, The propriety of formulating a Confession of Faith, and the terms of such Confession. Third, The obligatory character of the Confession and the religious qualification of electors. We are chiefly interested in the treatment of these points.
* It is to be observed that this Article is printed as it was written in Oct., 1879.
| Histoire du Synode General de l'Eglise Réformé de France. Paris, 6 Juin10 Juillet, 1872. EUGÈNE BERSIER.
1. The discussion of the first question was introduced by the presentation of a declaration from the consistory of Lyons, signed also by forty-two Liberal delegates, to the effect that since the present Synod was constituted by elections from the several consistories on a basis of numerical inequality, the first and only duty of the Synod was to provide for a new election on a more equitable plan; and that, therefore, no supreme judicial authority could be accorded to the Synod in any action it might take, the establishment of a Confession of Faith being least of all within its province. It was asserted that one consistory, that of Paris, embraced thirty thousand persons, while some others numbered not over six hundred; that twentyseven consistories, embracing one hundred and sixty thousand Protestants, were not represented; that the Law of Germinal having made no mention of National Synods, virtually abolished them, and that, at all events, the system of synodal government had lapsed by desuetude.
On the other hand, it was argued that the decree of convocation had done well in respecting the original rights of the separate consistories or individual presbyterial bodies, notwithstanding imperfections which might exist in the proportional allowance of delegates; and that it was not the Protestant population, in a civil sense, which constituted the Church, as claimed by the Left. M. Laurens affirmed that the silence of the Law of Germinal concerning the National Synods could not be construed into an abolition of them, the former discipline of the Church being in that document specially recognized; that “on the very day when the government pronounced the moment as opportune for the convocation of a National Synod, the Reformed Church then found itself in full possession of its ancient and complete organization;" that, in point of legal form, the law of 1802 and the decree of March 26, 1852, being the only basis, the decree of November 29, convoking the Synod, plants itself on both these enactments, and is, therefore, “ whether in principle, or form, or intent, as perfectly legal as any thing can possibly be.” As the result, an " order of the day," which treated the calling of the Synod as a recognition of the “liberty and autonomy of the Reformed Church of France in religious matters," and asserted the supreme authority of the Synod under Government over the con
stitution of the Church, including the power to modify the electoral system, was adopted by a vote of sixty-one to forty-five.
2. In reference to the second question, M. Bois had presented on the third day for adoption the following Confession of Faith: “At the moment when she takes up the continuity of her Synods, interrupted for so many years, the Reformed Church of France feels above all things the need of returning thanks to God, and of testifying her love to Jesus Christ her divine head, who has upheld and comforted her during the course of her trials. She declares by the organ of her representatives that she remains constant to the principles of faith and liberty on which she was founded. With her fathers and martyrs in the Confession of La Rochelle, with all the Churches of the Reformation in their different creeds, she proclaims the sovereign authority of the Holy Scriptures in matters of faith, and salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, Only Son of God, who died for our offenses and was raised again for our justification. She, therefore, preserves and maintains at the basis of her teaching, her worship, and her discipline, the grand Christian facts represented in her sacraments, celebrated in her religious solemnities, and expressed in her liturgies, notably in the Confession of Sins, the Apostles' Creed, and the Liturgy of the Lord's Supper.”
This was the brief and moderate expression of the evangelical faith which the party of the Right undertook to defend, and finally contented itself to affirm. In view of the fact that the majority of the Synod would probably insist upon some doctrinal declaration, the Left at once came forward, in the person of M. Gaufrès, with a substitute for the above confession, to the effect that, “as taught by the Fathers a true knowledge of the Gospel is to be found in the sacred Scriptures,” and that “the existing divergencies of belief should not be allowed to break the unity of the Church, where all were following the same source of light, the Bible; and all found there the same Master, Jesus Christ; the same Father-God, who invites all to the one hope of eternal life and the one pursuit of moral perfection.” The Left Center presented a proposition which differed from this simply in a more distinct affirmation of the divine Sonship of Christ. Certain amendments to the proposition of M. Bois were also suggested from the Liberal side. Petitions were presented from different consistories,
synods, and pastoral conferences on this subject, containing very diverse views.
The position of the Liberals was defended with great ability, the arguments of the speakers being chiefly directed against the adoption of any formal creed regarded as obligatory. The proposition of M. Bois was also specially criticised.
M. Pécaut affirmed that the chief interest of the Reformed Church at the present day was the avoidance of schism and the destructive effects which would necessarily follow continuous divisions; that Protestantism is truly preserved only by securing the individual independence of all human authority in the study of morals and revelation. To undertake to make a formula of faith obligatory would be but to repeat the futile attempts of former councils and synods to determine the position of the columns of Hercules, which has been as often unsettled. tional Church, properly considered, is neither a sect nor a sacramental institution, but a community of fellow-countrymen, where we may heartily sympathize in religious sentiment and co-operate with a multitude of persons who differ from us in opinion. M. Clamageran, a lawyer, made a historical plea, asserting that the Reformed Church grew rapidly and with a prospect of large success in France, from 1521 to 1559, without a formal dogmatic union; and that with the adoption of a creed the vigorous life of the Reformation was arrested. He also argued that dogmatic formulas could not preserve a people from the intrusions of error; that they gave occasions for hypocritical professions of faith, and only tended, within the pale of Protestantism, to the multiplication of sects.
No one spoke on the Liberal side with more solid ability than M. Fontanès. Having criticised M. Bois' proposition, not very forcibly, indeed, as being devoid of clearness, adaptability to popular comprehension and genuine life, he proceeded to assert that diversity of opinion in the Church was rather to be welcomed as a proof of the ennoblement of the individual, the intensity of his religious, and sincerity of his mental, life. Religion is a sentiment of the soul and not a conviction of the intellect. Dogma is only secondary, the product of reflection, and cannot be proposed as the condition of religious life. We should guard against making a breach upon the spirit of morality by weakening the power of individual belief. The apostles