Page images
PDF
EPUB

was to be sought and found, and not in the words of man's devising.” To judge correctly of the real meaning of abstract words or phrases employed as a motto on any device, the known sentiments of the individuals who use them, and the character of the times when they were introduced, ought to be taken into consideration. The remark we have already quoted, from the report of a committee of the board of Overseers of Harvard College, applies here in its full force. What is there said of the interpretation of laws is true also of the interpretation of mottos and inscriptions. A writer would be thought to reason very inconsequentially, who from the “seal of the fisherman” should argue, without further inquiry, the humility of the Roman pontiffs. If Peter the disciple could be proved to have engraved on his seal, if he ever had one, an image of himself drawing a net full of fishes, we should infer that originally such a picture simply indicated the employment of him who devised it. If one of those who have acted as his successors first made use of this emblem, some centuries after the death of the disciple, we should have no doubt that it was intended to shadow forth the character, power and prerogatives of “ Christ's vicegerent on earth.” “Veritas," if found on a seal of some modern transcendentalists, we should suppose, might mean “ any thing ;' if used in a similar way by the same speculatists in connection with the Scriptures, we should be much at a loss what was intended; the most probable conclusion would be, that it meant“ nothing.” As used by the early puritans of Massachusetts, “Veritas" placed over the Scriptures, interpreted on the same principles, can mean nothing less than the whole system of revealed truth, as they understood it. In still further explaining this seal according to the principles and usages of the age when it was devised, the three Bibles should seem to refer to the three persons of the Trinity, all concerned, as the puritans believed, in publishing “ truth” to men. We can hardly imagine how John Cotton would marvel to see this puritanical, and, as he must have viewed it, highly orthodox seal, entirely modernized in its import, and displayed both inside and out of these volumes.

But we are told by the author that the motto was probably intended to intimate, “ that in the Scriptures alone important truth is to be sought and found, and not in the words of man's devising.Thus much, we agree, is very obvious, except what is contained in the last clause. That the very men who, in the Synod of 1648, consented to the Westminster Confession “ for the substance thereof,” judging “it to be very holy, orthodox and judicious in all matters of faith,” designed to intimate by the emblem on their seal, any opposition to adopting 6 words of man's devising," in stating religious doctrines, we never should have suspected, much less discovered, without the aid here furnished.

But to satisfy the author how little weight the argument for the early catholicism of Harvard College, derived from its seal, really possesses, we would state the fact, that the seal of Yale College, and the only one ever used by that institution, bears on a shield a single representation of the Scriptures, with the Hebrew words Urim and Thummim, surrounded by the motto 6 Lux et Veritas.” Perhaps the first idea of this emblem was suggested by the early seal of Harvard. We have no other ground for this supposition than the uniform deference paid by Yale, for many years, to the older seminary; and the proneness of the trustees to look to Harvard on most occasions for examples and precedents, where any thing new was contemplated. However this may be, no one we presume can doubt that “ Lux et Veritas” on the seal of Yale College is a motto which, besides its reference to the Hebrew, indicates much the same things as are taught in the “ Westminster Confession” and “ Ames's Medulla.”

In connection with this subject, President Quincy advances an opinion, which, as much as any thing else he has said, is opposed to all our previous impressions. “ It is possible,” he remarks, “nay, even probable, that the reason of the entire absence of any reference to points of religious faith in the charters of the college was, that these early emigrants could not agree concerning them among themselves, and preferred silence on such points to engaging in controversy, when establishing a seminary of learning, in favor of which they were desirous to unite all the varieties of religious belief."* We suppose that in those charters there is a general reference to points of religious faith; and in looking for the reasons why the subject is not treated more in detail, we had arrived at directly the opposite conclusion to that contained in the above extract. We had become settled in the opinion that this fact is to be attributed, among other causes, to the almost absolute agree

* Vol. I. p. 50.

ment of the founders of the college in all the important points of their creed. When churches and communities are agreed in their religious views, there is little occasion for drawing up creeds and confessions. It is when great diversity of opinion exists, and party zeal is active, that such formularies are produced. The Nicene and Athanasian creeds did not first appear in times of great quiet in the church, when all thought the same thing. The church of Rome had no full and extended symbol of faith before the Reformation. The controversies arising out of this rupture in the church led to the decrees of the council of Trent, and to the various attempts among the different classes of Protestants, to define wherein they differed from the church of Rome, and from each other. The assent given to the Westminster Confession by the Synod at Cambridge in 1648, we had supposed, was a measure taken to satisfy their friends in England of the soundness of the faith of the New England churches, rather than to answer any call from among themselves; and that the proceedings of the Synod of 1680 originated in part from the same general cause.

As to the actual agreement of the first clergy of Massachusetts, and consequently of the founders of Harvard College, in one system of faith respecting all points by them considered essential, they have given, in addition to what appears in their synodical acts, all the testimony in their other proceedings, which could be desired for our satisfaction. They adopted at first for the college, as we have seen, a course of theological study, madle up of pure unadulterated Calvinism. This course was continued, we do not find in this history how long, but undoubtedly for more than a century. Who at first, or for a long time after the college was founded, complained of this course? What evidence is there, that the approbation of it, to the close of the seventeenth century and through a quarter or a half of the eighteenth, was not universal ? So late, certainly, as 1722, when the first Hollis Professor of Divinity was inducted into office, the candidate was examined by the corporation, whether they had a right so to do, it is not to our purpose to inquire,—“ upon several important heads of divinity.” At this examination, “ he declared his assent,” among other things, to “ Dr. Ames's Medulla Theologiæ,” and “ to the Confession of Faith contained in the Assembly's Catechism.” Two of the four examiners were President Leverett and Dr. Colman, both represented as distinguished for their liberality, and the latter as “the recognized leader of the most liberal religious party of the province."* “ Ames's Medulla” and the Westminster Catechism," then, were standards in theology in Massachusetts so late as 1722, universally admitted to be such; for if “ the most liberal religious party of the province” adhered to them, there can be no question about all others. Now if, in 1722, " Ames's Medulla” and the “ Westminster Catechism” were united in by all, can there be any doubt that they are correct symbols of the faith of the Massachusetts clergy in 1650 ? And is it possible, that the difference of theological views among the clergy in 1650 was so great as to be an obstacle in the way to making these summaries of Christian doctrine the standards of faith in the college ? Our theory is, that the general agreement in theological opinions, in 1650, as evidenced by the result of the synod two years before, would render, in the view of the clergy of that time, any attempt to frame a creed for the college a work of supererogation; especially, as before stated, they must have believed their faith established in Harvard, through the board of Overseers, beyond the chances of essential variation. They seem never to have anticipated a general defection in their own body.

There were, we do not deny, controversies from the first among the clergy of Massachusetts on points of theology; but these did not materially affect the two standards so often mentioned. In the long conflict of words, “ Ames's Medulla" and the “ Westminster Confession” stood firm. Nothing, perhaps, could prove more absolutely, how little difference about points of faith there was among the clergy of Massachusetts down to the beginning of the eighteenth century, than the attempt by President Quincy to prove the existence of a great revolution in theology about that time in the establishment of the Brattlestreet church in Boston. The founding of the church in Brattle Square, President Quincy represents as “the first-fruit of that religious liberty, which the charter of William and Mary introduced into Massachusetts.”+ The associates of this church, he says, “ were generally men of known character and weight in the province; and they reckoned in their number, and among their friends, individuals distinguished for learning, private worth, exemplary piety and official station.” We are prepared to expect some momentous changes. But what is the

* Vol I. p. 336.
SECOND SERIES, VOL. VI. NO. II.

† Vol. I. p. 132.

13

result? What was accomplished to make the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century an era in the ecclesiastical history of Massachusetts ? “ Thomas Brattle took the lead in forming an association of enlightened and pious Christians in Boston, for the purpose of establishing there a new Congregational church, constituted on principles deviating from the Platform, and expressly rejecting the imposition of any public relation of experiences, or any other examination than by the pastor, as the condition of admission to the Lord's Supper.” A very lame conclusion. Not one article of faith is touched. It turns out that a “public relation of experiences" was not required. But the author might have added that the church say in their “ Manifesto," "if any one think himself bound in conscience to make such a relation, let him do it.”*

We cannot but remark here, that it seems a little strange that the rule adopted by the church in Brattle Square respecting the public relation of experiences should be an augury of the bright day of liberality in Massachusetts, when nearly the same rule was adopted by Thomas Hooker more than sixty years before, in his church at Hartford ;t to which place he and his congregation had come, as will be recollected, according to President Quincy, that they might be under a “stricter form of worship.” That Dr. Colman and the new church adhered to the common faith of the churches of Massachusetts is proved from the “ Manifesto” which they issued. They made a public annunciation of their “ principles and rules,” to which they intended by God's grace to adhere.” “First of all,” they say, “ we approve and subscribe the Confession of Faith put forth by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster.” There seems to hare been no hesitation about subscribing “ words of man's devising ;, there is not even the saving clause of " substance of doctrine.” If President Quincy had noticed this part of the “ Manifesto,” he would have seen, we think, how little the church in Brattle Square differed from the other churches in Boston; and the want of any allusion to it, we consider a serious defect in his account of the formation of this church,

* See Dr. Palfrey's sermon to the church in Brattle Square, July 18th, 1824, in which, and the accompanying documents, the history of this church appears to be fully and impartially given.

+ Magnalia, Life of Thomas Hooker.

« PreviousContinue »