Page images

lous revelation. But those who use that argument seem really to forget that they are contradicting themselves. They hold the Old as well as the New Testament to have been divinely revealed, and yet they would not deny that the New Testament represents a decided progress as compared with the Old. Through the whole of the Gospels there seems to sound that one deep note, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time-But I say unto you.' Nay, we might go further. We know that some of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity were in the eyes of the Jews irreligious. The idea of a divine sonship was not only new to the Jews, it was blasphemy in their eyes, and worthy of death. And yet that very idea has become the corner-stone of a new religion, which new religion calls itself not the destruction, but the fulfilment of the old.

There is nothing in the idea of revelation that excludes progress, for whatever definition of revelation we may adopt, it always represents a communication between the Divine on one side and the Human on the other. Let us grant that the divine element in revelation, that is, whatever of truth there is in revelation, is immutable, yet the human element, the recipient, must always be liable to the accidents and infirmities of human nature. That human element can never be eliminated in any religion, certainly not in our own, unless we claim infallibility not only for the founder of our religion and his disciples, but for their disciples also, and for a whole succession of the successors and vicars of Christ. To ignore that human element in all religions is like ignoring the eye as the recipient and determinant of the colours of light. We know more of the sun than our forefathers, though the same sun shone on them which shines on us; and if astronomy has benefitted by its telescopes, which have strengthened the powers of the human eye, theology also ought not to despise whatever can strengthen the far-sightedness of human reason in its endeavours to gain a truer and purer idea of the Divine. A veil will always remain. No astronomer ventures to look at the sun without darkening his lens, and man will have to look at what is beyond through a glass darkly. But as in every other pursuit, so in religion also, we want less and less of darkness, more and more of light; we want, call it life, or growth, or development, or progress; we do not want mere rest, mere stagnation, mere death.

Now, I say once more; the foundation of this lectureship of Natural Theology seems to me a sign of the times, pregnant with meaning. Lord Gifford, intelligent observer of the world as he was, must have been struck with the immense advances which all other sciences had been making during his lifetime, and the increasing benefits which they had conferred on society at large. And so he says in the clearest words :

'I wish Natural Theology to be treated by my lecturers as astronomy or chemistry is, as a strictly natural science, the greatest of all possible sciences, indeed, in one sense, the only science.'

What does that mean? It seems to me to mean that this observant and clear-headed Scotch lawyer, though he could follow the progress of human knowledge from a distance only, had convinced himself that theology should not stand aloof from the onward stream of human knowledge, that it should not be treated according to rules of evidence and principles of criticism different from those to which all other sciences, and more particularly his own science, the Science of Law, owed their strength, their life, and their vigorous growth, but that it should take its place as a science among sciences, undismayed by dangers, and trusting in the inevitable triumph of truth. Whatever other Universities might say, he wished the Scotch Universities to take the lead, and to stretch out the right hand of fellowship to the newest among the sciences, the last-born child of the nineteenth century, the Science of Religion.

Some people profess to be frightened at the very name of the Science of Religion ; but if they approached this new science more closely, they would soon find that there is nothing behind that name that need frighten them. What does this science consist in? First of all, in a careful collection of all the facts of religion ; secondly, in a comparison of religions with a view of bringing to light what is peculiar to each, and what they all share in common; thirdly, in an attempt to discover, on the strength of the evidence thus collected, what is the true nature, the origin, and purpose of all religion.

I ask, then, Where is the danger ? And why should our Universities hesitate to recognise the Science of Religion as much as the Science of Language, or the Science of Thought? The first Universities which provided chairs for the comparative study of the religions of the world were those of little, plucky Holland. In 1880 France followed their example, and M. Reville was appointed the first professor of the Science of Religion at the Collège de France. In 1886 a special school was founded at the École des Hautes Études in Paris for the study of religions. In Germany lectures on the great religions of the world were generally given by the professors who taught the languages in which the sacred writings were composed. This is an excellent plan, perhaps the best that could be devised. The professor of Arabic would lecture on the Qur'ân, the professor of Persian on the Avesta, the professor of Sanskrit on the Veda, the professor of Hebrew on the Old Testament. Lately, however, separate chairs have been created for Comparative Theology in Germany also, and even in the Roman Catholic University of Freiburg this new study has now found a worthy representative 1

It may seem strange to some that Lord Gifford should have expressed a wish that the Science of Religion should be treated as a strictly natural science. He may have thought of the method of the natural sciences only; but it seems to me not unlikely that he meant more, and that looking on man as an integral part, nay as the very crown of nature, he wished religion to be treated as a spontaneous and necessary outcome of the mind of man, when brought under the genial influence of surrounding nature. If religion, such as we find it in all ages and among all races of men, is a natural product of the human mind-and who denies this?—and if the human mind, in its his

1 Die allgemeine vergleichende Religionswissenschaft im akademischen Studium unserer Zeit, von Dr. E. Hardy, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1887.


torical development, cannot be dissevered from that nature on whose breasts it feeds and lives and grows, the Science of Religion has certainly as perfect a right as the Science of Language to be classed as one of the natural sciences.

But that view does by no means exclude an historical study of religion; nay, to my mind, the more interesting, if not the more important part of the Science of Religion, is certainly concerned with what we call the historical development of religious thought and language. It is the same with the Science of Language. That science is certainly one of the natural sciences, but we should never forget that it is full of interest also when treated as an historical science. The line of demarcation between the natural and the historical sciences is not so easy to draw as some philosophers imagine, who would claim even the Science of Language as an exclusively historical science. All depends here as elsewhere on a proper definition of the terms which we employ. If we once clearly understand what we mean by the natural and what by the historical sciences, we shall quickly understand each other; or, if we differ still, we may at all events agree to differ. Without it, all wrangling pro or con is mere waste of time, and may be carried on ad infinitum 1.

From my own point of view, which I need not vindicate again, I am able to accept Lord Gifford's designation of the Science of Religion as a natural science in both meanings of which that name admits. I share with him the conviction that the same treat

The Science of

1 Lecture on the Science of Language, vol. i. p. 1; Language as one of the Physical Sciences.'

« PreviousContinue »