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1846.] D'Aubigné's History.
3 Quinet's "Roman Church and Modern Society” may be a valuable book for those who can read it, and it may perhaps in the original be not wholly unworthy the author's distinguished reputation. But the pompous, awkward translation before us is in an idiom all its own, and bearing equally remote kindred to the French and the English. We cannot but infer, however, from this mere travestie of his work, that M. Quinet has sacrificed too largely to artistical and rhetorical effect. The substratum of facts is slender and indefinite; the steps of ratiocination faintly marked ; the inferences vague and illogical. The book is adapted to perform in æsthetic circles the same work, which Hogan's coarse outpourings might do for the rabble, that is, to inflame prejudices against the Romish Church by a more summary, and with many a surer, process, than careful reasoning founded on a sufficiently definite and ample array of facts.
The appearance of D’Aubigné's fourth volume would present a suitable occasion for a somewhat extended notice of the portion of his great work now before the public; but this is aside from our present purpose. D'Aubigné has very great power of graphic narrative. He gives dramatic effect to every scene and combination of circumstances, which he describes; and by the artifice, (for which he has ample classical warrant) of writing set speeches for his actors, he draws his readers with him into the vortex of controversy, and makes them listeners to those intense discussions and fierce debates, on which the religious destinies of the whole future hung. He understands perfectly the laws of historical perspective, and throws every incident and character into its due degree of light or shade. We can hardly overrate the artistical merit of the work, or admire to excess the air of almost romantic interest, which, without sacrifice of accurate and minute detail, he has thrown over a portion of history, on which writers have been wont to be dry and dull. There is also an epic unity in his narrative, as there must needs be in the events of any strongly marked historical period. The chief fault of the work is, that it takes too narrow a view of the causes and issues of the Protestant Reformation, the view indeed, which might have been taken, and probably was taken by the actors themselves, but not that which presents
itself from the more elevated stand-point of the nineteenth century. D'Aubigné makes the establishment of the doctrine of Justification by Faith the great aim and end of the Reformation, whereas this was in fact only the initial expression and development of a principle of infinitely greater breadth and deeper significance. “The just shall live by faith," was indeed the refrain of the chorus at the end of every successive act, while Luther was on the stage; but to our ear it is almost lost, as it chimes in with the fuller, more comprehensive harmonies of the great redemption-song.
But our present design is not to give an extended review of the works before us, so much as to essay a brief answer to the question, — what is Protestantism?
The definition of terms is equally needed and neglected in every department, both of theoretical science and practical wisdom. The most common terms often
indefinite from their very commonness. They come to have no meaning from the general presumption, that every one knows their meaning; and different persons employ them in every possible latitude or narrowness of signification, as they do the same algebraic signs to express quantities however large or small. Thus has the term, Protestantism, fared at the hands of Protestants; denoting sometimes the mere act or attitude of religious protest, sometimes a faith founded on Scripture, and not on tradition, then, a particular modification of assumed orthodoxy, then again, antiRomanism under any form whatever. On the sense which we assign to the word depends the appropriateness of its continued use, as descriptive of one or more religious communities. If it be regarded as necessarily referring back to the events which gave rise to the term, then there is no longer any propriety in its use, except in those parts of the Church, where the attitude of protest against Romanism is still maintained, that is, where the religious life not only gravitates toward certain anti-Romish views of spiritual truth, but also consciously shapes itself by active antagonism to the Romish doctrines and polity. In this view the Prussian Government was right in prohibiting, in 1817, the farther official use of the word Protestant, and the High Church party in England ought to be sustained in the attempt to ignore the Protest of the fathers, which certainly
The Apostolic Church.
has not been maintained and embodied in the constitution of the English Church. But a term may become the fitting representative of ideas not involved in its etymology, or fully recognized in its original adoption ; and may be much better adapted, by the historical associations that cluster around it, to express those ideas, than a word coined or chosen subsequently for that sole purpose. This we conceive to be the case with the term, Protestantism; and we now propose to define the fundamental idea which it conveys to our own mind, and to illustrate its application to some of the leading heads of Christian doctrine and ecclesiastical policy.
Two opposite tendencies may be traced in the Christian Church from its very infancy, - Spiritualism and Formalism; and these two words may be regarded as the types of two great divisions of the Christian body, from the Apostolic age to the present time. That the former represents the tone of the New Testament, our readers can hardly need to see demonstrated. Our Saviour's teachings point to a purely spiritual worship, its seat in the self-consecrated soul, and to a spiritual morality, consisting not in outward precepts, but in principles so vast that, were they written out, the world could not contain the record, and so flexible as to adapt themselves to every possible posture of circumstances or demand upon human agency. The only forms attached by him to his religion can hardly bear the name, so purely incidental were they as to the outward circumstances of their origin, and so numerous and various are the modes, in which they can be observed with equal fidelity to the great Master. It is a significant fact, that the New Testament not only fails to prescribe any ecclesiastical organization or ritual, but gives only the most faint and shadowy glimpses of the constitution of the Apostolic Church. This Church some religionists profess indeed to describe with great minuteness; but it is by a process like that, by which Cuvier was wont to reconstruct the skeleton of an extinct species from the inspection of a single bone,with this important difference, however, that his analogies were based on admitted portions of the divine plan, while theirs are drawn from a “ Catholic Tradition,” in which one “must make believe a great deal,” in order to trace any divine element. Had the actual form of the Apostolic
Church been preserved, even though its imitation had not been expressly enjoined, the piety of subsequent ages would have felt bound slavishly to copy it, without reference to the varying demands of time and place; as was the case with regard to the number of deacons, of whom we find but seven in the Church of Rome, at a time when there were no less than forty presbyters. We cannot but think then, that Providence suffered the earliest Christian organizations to expire without record, on the same principle on which commentators say that God concealed the burial-place of Moses, lest the people might worship it. It was undoubtedly our Saviour's design, that his doctrines, precepts and spirit, connected with the two simple and variable rites of initiation and fellowship, should embody themselves from time to time in such modes of worship and administration, as might best suit the genius and meet the wants of every separate community of believers.
But the sources of the formalistic element were at hand, in the religions which Christianity was designed to displace. That element was largely represented in the Mosaic revelation, though there made, at the outset (and so expounded by the writers of the ancient canon) the vehicle of spiritual truth. But the vehicle had become empty, and the Mosaic law had long lost, except here and there in a single heart, its living and life-giving spirit. The smoke of the sacrifice still went up daily, the orchestra of the temple had lost none of the songs of Zion, and the Levites fulfilled their appointed courses as regularly as the heavens their circuits ; but to such vows and praises as reached the ear of Jehovah, the sacred courts had ceased to bear witness. Even the essential obligations of morality, such as reverence to parents, mercy to the poor, veracity under the most solemn sanctions, were set aside by processes of ritual jugglery, corresponding to those legal fictions, by which in modern times right and wrong are made to stand in each other's place. A Jew deemed himself devout, and looked for a favored seat in the Messiah's kingdom, not on account of any condition of heart or traits of character, by which he could either shew reverence to God or do good to man, but in proportion to the rigidness, minuteness and frequency of puerilities that might have disgraced the worship of any respectable form of idolatry. And those who shook
Early Jewish Christians.
off the cumbrous vanities of the traditional law, instead of falling back upon patriarchal piety, rushed either into a selfish and heartless skepticism, or into an asceticism no less void of spirituality than the mummeries of Pharisaic devotion, though bearing marks of a sincerity well worthy of a more satisfying belief.
In the Pagan world all the sincere religion to be anywhere traced was formalism, and consisted either in the paltry and often immoral rites, by which worldly and sensual men compounded with the gods for the liberty of sinning, or in the austerities and penances, which men of a more serious and sad spirit inflicted on themselves to appease the wrath of malignant deities. Those who had emancipated themselves from the belief of the multitude, had settled down into a virtual Atheism, admitting for the most part the existence of some creative or pervading Spirit, but making his existence an inert fact as regards human obligation, - ascribing to him no attributes which either claimed worship or imposed duty towards him.
Such was the soil, on which the seed of the kingdom fell; and, as it sprang up, an incessant miracle would have been needed to prevent the nascent plant from partaking of the qualities of the soil. We accordingly trace in the churches planted by the Apostles formalistic views of religion, diametrically opposed to the free spirit of the Gospel. This was the case much earlier among the Jewish than the Gentile converts; for the former were chiefly from among those most arrant of all formalists, the Pharisees, who were attracted towards the new religion by the fancied accordance and nominal identity of its doctrine of the resurrection with their own. Those trained in Pharisaic notions could not conceive of a state of the affections, which might be in itself an adequate ground for the Divine favor and a sufficient passport to heaven. “ Justification by faith without the deeds of the law” was an idea beyond their scope. They therefore retained the routine of ritual observances as the substance of practical religion, and simply enlarged their range of speculative knowledge by such portions of Christian doctrine as they could understand and embrace. Thus was the Gospel wholly subordinated to the Law and the Prophets, and regarded, not as a new system, but as a hopeful graft on the old stock of Judaism. Peter evident