Page images
[ocr errors]

are dogmas of a very distinct form which have now been built upon the previous Christianity, essentially altering its character, and have nevertheless been accepted by a certain and considerable body. And on the 29th November last, Archbishop Manning, by a circular then read out in the chapels of his diocese, declared that all who did not in their hearts receive and believe the said doctrines, had by that act of unbelief ceased to be Catholics (The Times, 30th November 1874). The Exclusive Plymouth Brethren have in like manner consolidated themselves in their position in times quite modern, and will hold no sort of fellowship, ecclesiastical or social, with those who differ with them. It is thus that Christianity has been built up from the beginning, the primitive form having been surcharged, from time to time, with the features which now constitute Christianity. For example, at the aforesaid Bonn Conference, when the parties felt each other on the question of tradition, they appear to have come upon a very awkward circumstance. “Before,” observes the Rev. J. Hunt, the writer of the article in the Contemporary Review, “ Dr Dollinger can get his authoritative' tradition, he must discover his method of discovering it. The early centuries, which are the most important, will present the greatest difficulties. Even on a question so important as Christ's divinity there is no agreement among patristic scholars as to what was taught by the Nicene Fathers. Petavius and Huetius, Sandius and Episcopius, Daniel Whitby and William Whiston, have all testified, as the result of their studies, that the ante-Nicene Fathers were Arian” (p. 883). The point of doctrine in question was decided at the Council of Nicoea, and the Arians, (now represented by the Unitarians), though the earlier body, were set aside by the newly-constituted orthodox party as heretics, and in this manner Christianity became invested with the recognition of the divinity of its imputed founder. The Buddhists had performed the like feat in behalf of their founder, also at a time distant from that of his earthly existence. I have endeavoured to trace out the various serious additions that have been made in building up Christian doctrine to its present standard, as discernible in the Christian scriptures themselves, the effect of which has been to push into the back ranks of so-called heresy the earlier forms traceable in the canonical scriptures, and prominently that of the primitive Judaic section, who have been designated, when made heretical, Ebionites.

The result is that the Christianity of the recognized scriptures, so formed, in its developed and altered state, cannot be traced to the imputed founder or his first followers, whose teachings would have to be disallowed in the present day as insufficient and positively erroneous, and that the system, as it actually stands, owes its being to exactly such operations as create before our eyes the divergent sects into which the Christian community are continually breaking. That is, teachers having no pretence to inspired authorization, have conceived doctrines which have found favour with a majority, and in the end have been currently accepted as integral portions of the system. It needs the pressure of some very potent engine to repeat now the process enacted at the Nicene Council to obtain judgment on the religious elements prevalent in distracting Chris

tendom, and to prescribe what is to be universally received. This, if possible to be effected, would place before us something resembling an united church, but it would be impossible to allege that it rested on divine foundations. And what would be true of such an operation now is true of what occurred when the canonical Christian standard was originally composed.

My work concludes with those moulds for Christianity, and especially for its central personage, which have been derived from Greek, Egyptian, Buddhist, and Hindú mythologies. Directly we may be satisfied that a phase of faith, or religious representation, is dependent on conceptions which we all reject as pagan and idolatrous, there is an end of any real grounds for the persuasion that the imitated form has been obtained from a pure, true, and superhuman source. Nor can the parent form be put aside as a mere ideal figuration devoid of the solid consequences attaching to the Christian image. With the Hindús the faith in Ráma is as substantial a sentiment as that of the Christian in Christ. At one time my duties in India involved the charge of a jail and attendance at the executions of criminals. Trials calling for the sentence of death had to be referred to the superior court at Madras, for whose benefit the whole of the examinations had to be translated. There was always thus in these cases a considerable interval between the trial and the sentence and its execution. I was then a devout Christian, and used to take advantage of my opportunities to “bring" the prisoners who were in these risks “to Jesus.” They were ordinarily of the uneducated class, but one was otherwise, having been a servitor in a pagoda. He had professed himself influenced

by what I had put before him, but when we met at the gallows he proclaimed his trust to be in Ráma, and not in Christ. He died earnestly calling upon his fancied mediator and saviour. What are we to say to such a phenomenon ? Ráma's character is painted in the most exalted colours, and is described in a history considered to be an embodiment of divine truth. Ráma was a god incarnate, devoting himself for the good of mankind. What is there to induce a follower of his to relinquish him for just such another form presented to him from a foreign quarter? And do a man's eternal prospects depend upon his critical selection of the true history? Happily the means are ample for our extrication from any such dilemma, and, as I may acknowledge to have been the case in my own instance when I was involved in these meshes, it is simply ignorance of the true character of the materials before us, coupled with a vein of superstition, inherited, working round us, and cultivated in us from early youth, that forges those bonds in which mankind are held to the prevailing baseless expressions of belief.

GREAT MALVERN, March 1875.


[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »