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Φιλοσοφίαν δε ου την Στωικήν λέγω, ουδε την Πλατωνικήν, ή την 'Επικουρείον
FOR JULY, 1842.
Art. I. Ancient Christianity and the Doctrines of the Oxford Tracts
for the Times. By the Author of Spiritual Despotism.' Vols. I.
and II. London: Jackson and Walford. Tracts for the Times are good things in their way; supposing, of course, that they are really calculated for the times; but from their very nature, they ramble over so many subjects, that though they may be imbued with a single spirit, they can seldom form an harmonious and classical whole. The same remark must necessarily apply to any work which attempts to answer such Tracts, or afford an antidote to them, before the series is completed. However useful and true may be the arguments by which the running fight is maintained, yet as they follow the doublings of the adversary, and by no means aim constantly at one goal, our minds cannot derive from the contemplation of them that sense of satisfaction which is inspired by completeness and beauty.
We have before us eight numbers of Ancient Christianity, forming two volumes, which contain nearly eleven hundred closely printed octavo pages, and the author gives us to understand that another volume is to come. Our original desire had been to wait until the work was quite finished, before we undertook to review it; more especially as it has so changed its character since we before noticed it slightly. But the great variety of topics now introduced in it justifies us in regarding it as a miscellany, or as (we might say) a periodical, avowedly directed against the Pusey-school, and in defence of the Church of England, rather than as a survey of Ancient Christianity. We do not complain of the course which the author has chosen ; perhaps he has already in part succeeded in his desire to awaken VOL, XII.
the clergy and laity of his own communion to the dangers and errors of the system which he opposes. But it certainly alters the nature of his work, and forces us in part to look upon it with different eyes. We do not wish to retract or to modify the high satisfaction with which we welcomed its appearance.
We hope that it will be productive, if not of all the good which the author might desire, yet still of great and important good; and that it will force our ministers and people also to a study of ecclesiastical history, the consequences of which cannot be foreseen.*
In bringing the whole series to the notice of our readers, we are oppressed by feeling the vast extent of the subject. Having our eyes and emotions fixed on the events themselves, to which the author points us, our own impulse is, so to dwell on the substance of things as to forget the peculiarities and minor infirmities of the writer, as likewise the matters in which we differ from him. Yet we are checked by the apprehension, that this might seem like indiscriminate panegyric, especially since so many of his opponents have called his facts into question ; and some readers might imagine that our blindness to his failings indicated a strong predetermination to agree with his conclusions.
In the treatment of historical, as of legal, evidence, it often happens that our opinion of the strength of the case, and of the ability of the reasoner, are in a sort of inverse ratio.
Considering how many learned men have explored the field of ecclesiastical history, and that not all were fettered by church Articles or by strong prejudice, it would indeed be a powerful objection to any modern investigations, if it could be said that the broad facts possessed much novelty. Now, on the contrary, Mr. Isaac Taylor's facts are on the surface of various preceding histories. Most of them are in substance found in Mosheim ; they gave edge to the sarcasms of Gibbon ; they are freely exposed in the downright and racy reasonings of Conyers Middleton ; are feebly acknowledged, or virtually implied, in some of the biographical narratives of Milner. We formerly had occasion to refer to Bishop Newton's honest and straightforward denunciation of the Nicene church, as the proper and adequate fulfilment of Paul's prophecy concerning demonolatry, false miracles, monkery, and other asceticism. Mr. I. Taylor has now, judiciously, as we think, made this prominent, by adjusting his sixth number, in great measure, to accord with Bishop Newton's remarks. It is thus manifested, that he is maintaining no novelty ;
The recent appointment at Oxford of two new Divinity Professors, one for Pastoral Theology, and one for Ecclesiastical History, is perhaps a sign of the times. It looks as if even Oxford were about to study Divinity. But Professors are often no mark of pupils.
that the reader has little to take on the personal responsibility and trustworthiness of the author; that if the argument is strong, it is so because the facts themselves are abundant, and not because of Mr. Taylor's abundant ingenuity. The truth is rather, that men of superior education have long taken as proved the very early corruption of the church. Divines held a prudential silence; dissenting ministers, who dipt into the writings of the Fathers, shrank back with disgust at that which is so opposed to unsophisticated Christianity; Unitarians, who coolly discussed such matters, either gained no hearing, or were supposed to be desirous, at any expense, of disparaging Nicene worth, from dislike of the Nicene Trinity ; finally, learned laymen generally looked on the whole with a political eye, perhaps also with high contempt. The Protestant world has been taken by surprise, to hear teachers from Oxford allege, that the church system of the fourth and fifth centuries possesses, presumptively, truth and authority; that the doctors of those ages have a quasi-inspiration, so that to differ from them, when they agree, is an awful matter, scarcely to be justified (it would seem) at the end of a long life of learning, spent in the leisurely perusal of forty or fifty thousand folio pages. Should a new race of teachers declare the prophets of Thor and Odin to have been quasi-inspired, refutation would be a tedious task, if political events emboldened them to make the cool assumption, that the pretensions of the Scandinavian bards were to be acknowledged until disproved; and that, in the mean time, the soul must be bowed in mysterious reverence, ready to interpret every doubtful fact in their favour, and to make light of every argument against them, unless it were absolutely demonstrative.
Such nearly appears now to be the posture of mind, with a majority of the followers of the Tractarians. To convince men who have taken up with an unfair position of the argument, and who shudder to hear plain facts, calling them profanity and ribaldry, is a hopeless task; yet, for the sake of those not yet seduced, labours such as Mr. Taylor's are highly valuable. Irksome indeed it must be (we sympathize keenly with his complaints) to undergo the drudgery of reading such writers. Most ecclesiastical historians, at least among Protestants, have, no doubt, evaded it. A few references, gathered from other compilations, enable them to dip upon critical passages, and obtain important extracts; but unless forced to the tedious task of thoroughly perusing what has so little intrinsic merit, who can expect them to volunteer it? The praise of superior learning is thus awarded to the Oxford divines. Their followers virtually demand that no one shall claim to be heard against them who has not bestowed the same amount of attention as they, on