Page images
PDF
EPUB

ovem

e

W

US

in contrast with Jesus, because we know that he really existed, and his work originated the historical movement in which it merged as a mighty river in a mightier sea.

If we seek to know Jesus as he was, we have only his sayings to guide us, and only too few of them! His sayings are collected together in our gospels in all kinds of order and disorder; and to understand them we have to take them and think over their meaning one by one. Perhaps we come nearest to the mind of Jesus himself when we do this. People sometimes speak as if the discourses of Jesus, as the Sermon on the Mount, have come down to us just as he himself delivered them,-in respect of their order and connection. There is no shadow of support for such a view, and all probability points in the other direction. His teaching is not given to us in the form of a system arranged for us. It was put forth as seed is scattered, to borrow the imagery of his wonderful parable, and his hearers had to grow those seeds for themselves, and we must for ourselves. And not

е

as

only are his sayings like seeds that grow; they are like bright lights, helping us to track out the pathway of truth amid the mists of error in the Christianity of the creeds and orthodox churches around us.

The fundamental opposition between our view and that of Cardinal Newman has now been fully developed ; yet in every case we have recognised that his insight is superior to that of his opponents, and that at the worst he has but overstated a truth. His view of the necessity of dogma in religion,his distinction between an implicit but real belief and its intellectual expression, -his appeal to history regarded as a development,

-his assertion that the Bible is not a storehouse whence doctrines can be drawn at pleasure, and that the origin of Christianity cannot be separated from its history,—on all these points we have only modified his conclusions.

But his fixed assumption that a dogma can be absolutely true and final (save in so far as subsequent dogmas further define it) we have rejected as a fatal error.

CHAPTER III.

NEWMAN'S 'GRAMMAR OF ASSENT.'

SUMMARY.

We notice first the "psychological bias” of Newman's inquiry. This means that we have before us two questions. One is, “What is the state of mind called Belief, and what are the laws of its growth ?” The other is, “ What are the tests of a true Belief ?Newman endeavours to make an answer to the first do duty for an answer to the second.

Newman's theistic presupposition, based on the evidence of Conscience, is equivalent to a postulate of the rationality of the world. Examining his analysis of Belief, and his contrast between believing and reasoning, we find the essential conclusions to be these : we cannot either believe or act without going beyond what we are able to prove by argument; and the characteristic of the highest state of assurance is, our inability to think the opposite. His theory of Belief requires to be supplemented in two points : in explanation of the fact that our beliefs go beyond what we can prove by argument, and in explanation of the fact that if we insisted on proof for everything we should never come to action. We instinctively trust the rational experience of the race, which is the foundation of the beliefs that we cannot “prove." We may find real examples of how such "practical certainties” grow; but if they are trustworthy, their foundation lies in human experience.

Newman's attempt to make the inertia of the feeling of practical certainty (without any appeal to universal rational experience) into a test of truth, requires him to show that a feeling of certainty once established is permanent or “indefectible.” But where the feeling is really inevitable and permanent, as in the case of the axioms of logic and mathematics, this is no test of truth, but a ground of utter scepticism, unless our belief in these principles can be shown to rest, in the last resort, also upon Reason and Experience. And we can see that certitudes once believed to be permanent may change, both through changes in the course of individual experience and changes in the Spirit of the Age. Newman is therefore compelled to appeal to another test of Truth.

Newman argues that the spread of Christianity in the ancient world requires us to assume a miraculous or antinatural Power at work. But we have seen (ch. i.) that the social and intellectual state of the ancient world was such that the spread of Christianity is not a mystery; and a consideration of its moral state points to the same conclusion. The theory of Belief which Newman ex.pounds in his Grammar of Assent has already been mentioned; there are many passages of his earlier writings where it is present in germ. But it is re-stated and set forth so completely in the Grammar of Assent, that this work requires special notice. As before, we shall find, even in what we are compelled to regard as his errors, more instruction than there would be in the true conclusions of many less able and less consistent thinkers.

Instead of Newman's term “ Assent," I shall invariably use “Belief,” which — at least as used in modern Psychology-expresses exactly what he intended by “ assent.”

We notice first the psychological bias of the whole discussion. An emendatio intellectus, he seems to say, is in no sense possible; we cannot lay down rules for reasoning, or ask how “ought” we to proceed in order to arrive at true beliefs. We must take the human mind as we find it, as it comes from its Maker; the laws according to which the mind acts are regarded not only as a “constituted order” but as His will. We can only ask, How, as a matter of fact, do men reason? What, in fact, is belief, and how is it arrived at and maintained ? Thus, he says :

That is to be accounted a normal operation of our nature which men in general do actually instance ; that

« PreviousContinue »