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REESE LIBRARY

OF TIIK

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA.
19 1893

Accessions No. ..2- ^ ^ ^ Class No. :.

<< u u- -i



THE
CONTEMPORARY EVOLUTION

OF

RELIGIOUS THOUGHT.



G. GIBBONS & Co., PRINTERS, LEICESTER.



THE CONTEMPORARY EVOLUTION



OF



RELIGIOUS THOUGHT



IN



ENGLAND, AMERICA AND INDIA,



BY



COUNT GOBLET d'ALVIELLA,

PROFESSOR OF COMPARATIVE THEOLOGY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF BRUSSELS AND
FORMERLY MEMBER OF THE BELGIAN HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.



" Notre siecle a vu des mouvements religieux aussi extraordinaires que ceux d'autrefois,
raouvements qui out provoque", au d<5but autant d'enthusiasme, qui ont dj& eu, proportion
gardee, plus de martyrs et dont Pavenir eat encore incertain." E, KENAN, Les Apvtres.



TRANSLATED



BY



J. MODEN.
DBI




WILLIAMS & NORGATE:

14, HENRIETTA STPVEET, Co VENT GARDEN, LONDON ;

AND 20, SOUTH FREDERICK STREET, EDINBURGH.

1885.



G-t,



TO

EMILE DE LAVELEYE,

WHO EVEN IN THE HEAT OF THE STRUGGLE FOR THE PROGRESS

OF THE HUMAN MIND HAS NEVER SEPARATED
\ \

RELIGION AND LIBERTY.




TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE,



When this work first came under my notice, I was
struck with its calm judicial tone, its fine catholicity of
spirit, and above all with its comprehensive grasp of
the bearing of modern science upon ultimate religious
beliefs. To trace the changes of religious thought and
note their inter-dependence, their "evolution," in the
life of two great races, during the most eventful period
in the history of the human mind, is certainly no small
undertaking, and yet it was one which, as it seemed to
me, the Author had successfully accomplished. And
although I was fully aware that a large proportion,
possibly, indeed, the majority of those likely to be
interested in a question of this kind, were, in all
probability, able to read the work in the original, it
still appeared to me and to friends on whose judg-
ment I relied, that so important a book ought to be
translated for the sake of those less versed in the
French language and yet in full sympathy with the
subject. The present translation is the result, which
I now offer to the English-speaking public on both
sides of the Atlantic.



viii. TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.

In the performance of my self-imposed task, I have
sought to reproduce not only the thought, but, as far as
possible, the spirit of the work. It is for others to say
how far I have succeeded in this attempt. The one
great pre-requisite for the task I have certainly possessed
sympathy with the subject. This sympathy has ex-
tended to the historical and critical as well as to the
more philosophical parts of the book ; but at the same
time I must confess to having felt a special interest in
the chapters which treat of Mr. Herbert Spencer's
philosophy and of the attempt that is being made by
Mr. Savage and others to reconcile religious faith with
the Philosophy of Evolution, and to thus base the life
of the soul upon the consciousness of the Absolute,
that indestructible rock which the wildest storms of
scepticism can never wear away.

As the reader will observe, I have added several
notes, which in one or two cases are of considerable
length. It has appeared to me desirable to make at
least some mention of whatever within my own know-
ledge was calculated to throw any direct light upon the
text of the work, or to bring its critical examination
down to a later date. Hence the notes in reference to
certain new books ; to the Spencer-Harrison contro-
versy ; to the most recent phases of the Brahmo Somaj
movement ; and to other matters likely to prove of in-
terest to the reader or give greater value to the book.
My having made no reference to Dr. Martineau's re-
cently published work " Types of Ethical Theory"
may seem either an exception or an omission on this
head. But the book in question appeared too late for



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. ix.

mention in those chapters where the high position and
extensive influence of its author are considered ; and
then again, though a great and most important work,
it has but an indirect bearing upon the evolution of
religious thought and does not come, therefore, within
the strictly legitimate scope of this book.

Those who read with interest what is said in these
pages on the progressive modification and development
of religious thought in England, America, and India,
may possibly regret that the Author did not at least
extend the scope of the work to Germany. This regret,
indeed, was expressed to me, the other day, by Professor
Pfleiderer, of Berlin, who spoke most highly of what
Count d'Alviella has actually accomplished. It may be
remarked, however, that the book would not have
possessed, in such case, the unity which now charac-
terises it, and that the field is still open for the applica-
tion of a similar method of critical observation to the
various Protestant countries of the Continent Ger-
many, Holland, Switzerland, and Sweden.

To the merely superficial observer of the present
condition of religious thought there often comes a feel-
ing of dread or of exultation, according as he is at the
positive or negative stage of belief and clings to religion
or would see it destroyed. But he who looks around
upon the religious opinions of his fellows in the spirit
of this book or ponders over the changes of belief it
describes, will find no cause for either despondency or
sceptical triumph. He will see that though the form of
religion changes the substance remains ; and he will be
led to believe, or strengthened in the conviction, that



x. TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.

religion can no more die out of the heart of man, in his
race capacity, than gravitation can disappear from the
physical world. As the soul's perception of the under-
lying Reality, as its consciousness of relationship and
affinity to the mysterious Power in whose Immensity
the Space-universe is embosomed like a mote in the
sunbeam, it is not only an abiding but the grandest,
because the ideal and governing factor in man's spiritual
being. Chained to the phenomenal by his intellect, it
is in and through religion alone that he is brought into
practical relationship with the Absolute. It is true he
becomes conscious of Transcendent Existence by the
processes of the intellect, but it is only in love and
aspiration only in the consciousness of that " Eternal
Mystery" to which Herbert Spencer ascribes religion
or from the sense of absolute dependence to which
Schliermacher traced it, or, indeed, from the perception
of God in the moral law as taught by Kant, that the
human blends with the Divine, and the soul of man
passes into the infinite and partakes of its rest and
fulness. To every open mind the universe with its
wondrous commingling of atoms and mysterious on-
flowing instants, is a revelation of the Eternal in Space
and Time. And with the thought that thus perceives
the Supreme Being, behind the world, there comes the
feeling, the u emotional consciousness" which is a per-
sonal realization of Him. For reverence is born of
what the mind recognises as great, vast, sublime. And
in this way the soul passes from the visible to the
invisible, from the phenomenal to the real. But not
simply as the correlative of great thoughts is the Divine
life given, for it flows into every young soul and en-



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE. XI.

shrines itself in opinions that seem absolutely true when
erroneous, and inspires a confidence that claims fullest
knowledge where knowledge is impossible. Innumer-
able souls thus live before God souls that could never
reach Him if clear intellectual vision were needed to do
so. Nothing, indeed, is more marvellous than this
second or higher form of instinct which makes even
intellectual error subservient to the continuance of
spiritual truth in the human heart. Thus the imperish-
able treasure of the soul's life is always contained in an
earthen vessel supplied by the intellect. Moulded,
fashioned and conditioned according to the needs of
the mind in all its multiform stages of progress, that is
to say enshrined in a thousand mythological or theo-
logical forms, this sense of God the Infinite manifests
itself as faith, as religion ; and men cling to it in certain
phases of their growth as a mother clings to her child,
and at other times they spurn it as a worthless thing
because an awakening mind has shown them it is not
identical with some special form of belief, as they have
earnestly or even passionately taken it to be.

Now the preception of this truth is the key that un-
locks every system of faith and discloses the spiritual
power which may be associated with the crudest
opinions, showing us that though absolute truth is not
the heritage of man the harmony of sincerity is made
absolute and suffices for the life of the soul. Hence it
enables us to understand the origin and influence of the
great religions of the past as they are revealed to us by
Comparative Theology, and it will enable the reader to
rightly estimate the changes of religious thought which



xii. TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.

are taking place to-day in our midst changes which
this work describes and attempts to account for by
carrying the great law of Evolution into that domain
of human experience which was so long regarded as a
separate province of the mind, but is now seen to be
nothing more than its bright upper and heavenward
side.

Leicester ) July i 1885.



CONTENTS.



PAGE
INTRODUCTION I



PART I.



CHAPTER I.

THE PROGRESS OF FREE INQUIRY IN ENGLAND SINCE THE RE-
FORMATION 13

CHAPTER II.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF EVOLUTION AND THE CRISIS OF THEISM 35

CHAPTER III.

THE PROGRESS OF THOUGHT IN ORTHODOX PROTESTANISM ... 57

CHAPTER IV.

ENGLISH UNITARIANISM 8l

CHAPTER V.

RATIONALISTIC CONGREGATIONS BEYOND THE PALE OF CHRIS-
TIANITY 103



xiv. CONTENTS.

CHAPTER VI.

PAGE
COMTISM AND SECULARISM 129



PART II.



CHAPTER VII.

THE GENESIS OF UNITARIANISM IN THE UNITED STATES ... 153

CHAPTER VIII.

THE TRANSCENDENTAL MOVEMENT EMERSON AND PARKER ... 167

CHAPTER IX.

FREE RELIGION AND THE RELIGION OF ETHICS 183

CHAPTER X.

COSMISM AND THE RELIGION OF EVOLUTION 209



PART III.

CHAPTER XI.

T THEISM IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA 225

CHAPTER \ XII.

THE SOCIAL REFORMS OF THE BRAHMO SOMAJ 241



CONTENTS. XV.

CHAPTER XIII.

PAGE
THE ECLECTICISM OF THE BRAHMA DHARMA IN ITS STRUGGLE

WITH HINDU MYSTICISM 257

CHAPTER XIV.

SYNCRETISM OF THE NEW DISPENSATION 273

CHAPTER XV.

BRAHMOISM AND THE RELIGIOUS FUTURE OF INDIA ... ... 291



SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION.




or

UNIVERSITY



INTRODUCTION,



UNATTACHED to any Church, but in moral and intel-
lectual sympathy with all who, either as representatives
of a religious organization or otherwise, are seeking to
reconcile religion and reason, I have been engaged, for
several years past, in studying the various attempts
which are being made by the English, the Americans,
and the Hindus, to solve what Professor Tyndall calls
"The problem of problems of our age." It is the
result of these studies that I now offer to the public.

I could have wished to extend my work to all those
countries where an attempt is also being made to ensure
a rational satisfaction to the religious sentiment ; but,
taking into consideration the magnitude of such an
attempt, I have thought it wise to restrict myself
to those peoples whom special circumstances have
permitted me to more closely observe. There is,
moreover, an exceptional interest in studying the con-
flict between religion and science among the Anglo-
Saxon nations, who, on both sides of the Atlantic, are
regarded as forming at once the most religious and the
most practical race of the modern world.

Those who read this work to the end will see how it
is that, without destroying the unity of the subject, I
have been able to connect, with a sketch of religious
progress in England and the United States, an expo-



INTRODUCTION.



sition of the religious reform now being carried on in
India by the different schools of Brahmoism. There
is, in short, a movement of emancipation going on
among the Hindus, which, while retaining its origin-
ality in the presence of European influences, represents
none the less the indirect action of Anglo-Saxon culture
on the spirit of the old Hindu philosophy.

It is in no sectarian or proselytizing spirit that this
work is written. I have been influenced neither by a
desire to secure acceptance for any one of the systems
of belief which I have sought to explain, nor by an
assumption that I am capable of offering any new
solution of the problem. My sole aim has been to
furnish some few materials for the history of Rationalism
in the second half of the nineteenth century. I have,
therefore, specially applied myself to collecting facts
and to summarizing documents, adding, at ' the same
time, my own views on the ground of general criticism.

I may even go so far as to say that I should be
greatly embarrassed if, at the outset, it were necessary
for me to decide between the relative claims of the
religious doctrines which are described in this volume.
Whenever I have watched the working of the different
systems on the spot, whenever I have found myself in
personal relation with their principal representatives, or
have been able to study them in the works of their
most authoritative interpreters, I have been struck
much more forcibly by the unity of principle pervad-
ing them than by the diversity of form they possess.

Why not avow it, even at the risk of being taxed
with indifference or ever-changing opinions by those



INTRODUCTION.



who do not understand me ? I was little short of feeling
myself a Unitarian when with Dr, Martineau in England,
or with Mr. Savage in the United States ; a Theist with
Mr. Voysey ; a Transcendentalist, ' at Boston with
Theodore Parker ; a believer in the Divinity of the
Cosmos, at New Bedford with Mr. Potter ; a Humani-
tarian, at New York with Mr. Adler ; and even a
Brahmoist, at Calcutta with the leaders of the Brahmo
Somaj. To say the least, if I had been born in any one
of these systems of belief, in all probability, I should
have remained in it, because it would have presented
no barrier to my moral and intellectual development.

I may say, therefore, with Montaigne : "C'est icy un
livre de bonne foy, lecteur." But I should also add that
it is not only a book written in good faith, but also one
that has resulted from sympathy with the subject.
When a man is closely connected with the struggles of
political factions in his own country, he feels a certain
pleasure in transporting himself into a calmer and
healthier atmosphere, where he may express himself
free from the reservations or the party spirit of electoral
and parliamentary controversy. All the writers who
have considered the progress of the conflict between
the modern spirit and Roman orthodoxy, from the
higher levels of thought as Renan, Renouvier, de
Laveleye, Castelar, and Mariano have pointed out the
disadvantages, and even the dangers which accompany
any form of destruction in religious matters, without a
corresponding process of reconstruction. This consider-
ation, grave as it is, would not influence me, if it were
a question of defending the essential conditions of our



INTRODUCTION.



civilization, the independence of individual judgment,
the claims of science or the exercise of public liberty,
against the assumptions of any church. But however
resolved I may be to persevere in such a course as this,
I cannot, in the presence of the disappointments and
embarrassments which it reserves for us, restrain a feel-
ing of envy for the wisdom of those more fortunate
peoples with whom attempts at religious reconstruction
go hand in hand with the progress of dogmatic demoli-
tion. Hence, though I have attempted to give to this
work an impartial and impersonal character, it bears the
impress of a large and perhaps the best part of my own
individuality.

Some time since, Mr. Gladstone, in describing the
various currents of religious thought which prevail in
the modern world, divided them into two classes, accord-
ing as their adherents admit or deny the moral govern-
ment of Providence and the sanctions of a future life. 1 In
the first of these groups he placed the partizans of Papal
infallibility, together with those who attribute to their
Church a divine origin (Episcopalians, Old Catholics
andjnembers of the Greek Church) as well as the various
Evangelical sects, the Universalists, the Unitarians, and
also the majority of Theists. In the second division-
characterized as the negative school he classed Sceptics,
Atheists, Agnostics, Secularists, Pantheists, Positivists,
and the believers in a revived Paganism.

Now this classification is perfectly justifiable for those
who occupy, as Mr. Gladstone does, a definite philo-

I. The Courses of Rcligiotis Thought, by the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, in
the Contemporary Review i of June, 1876.



INTRODUCTION. 5

sophical stand-point. But on the more general ground
where I have taken up a position, it is not so much the
nature of the religious ideas, which has to be considered,
as their flexibility, that is to say the extent to which
those who accept them admit the right of free inquiry
in relation to their adoption or rejection. I came to the
conclusion, therefore, that the best course I could persue,
would be to describe in succession the condition of the
various churches and schools of religious thought by
arranging them, as far as possible, in the order of de-
creasing dogmatic opinion. On the other hand, since
my purpose is less that of describing any given religious
organization than of tracing the course of its evolution,
I have also deemed it useless to dwell upon such facts as
the eccentricities of certain American sects, the practices
of the Salvation Army and the like, which have often
occupied public attention, but which, as it seems to me,
mark either a retrograde tendency or a deviation from
the general course of religious development.

I have thought it desirable to commence the first part
of the work with a sketch of the progress which free
inquiry has made in England since the reign of Henry
the Eighth ; in seeing by this means how the present
has sprung from the past, the reader will be the better
able to anticipate how the future will flow out of the
present.

Nor has it seemed to me less indispensable to devote
a special chapter to a description of the influence exer-
cised upon the religious sentiment by the scientific
philosophy of the age, which is everywhere tending to
predominate in the higher strata of modern thought.



INTRODUCTION.



It will be thus seen that the present conflict between
religion and reason, is not confined to the peoples of our
continent ; while at the same time it will become
apparent how the leading minds of the Anglo-Saxon
race have set about solving this great problem, without
sacrificing the respective claims of either of the two
parties in the conflict.

The chapters which follow contain an exposition of
the progress of religious thought in the various denom-
inations of Great Britain, from the Anglican Church to
orthodox Positivism and indeed to the rudimentary wor-
ship of the Secularists, passing in review the evangelical
sects, the Unitarians, the pure Theists and other ration-
alistic communions.

The second part of the work is principally devoted
to the United States. I explain in it how the Unitarian
movement sprang up there from the original Puritan
orthodoxy by a gradual but. by no means illogical evolu-
tion, and how, after having passed through the phase of
Transcendentalism, it has produced numerous organiza-
tions which border on the limits of pure Theism or
even extend to Agnosticism, some indeed realizing,
to a certain extent, the type of a Church of Humanity
without any dogmatic barriers whatever, and others
attaching themselves more or less closely to the recent
philosophy of evolution.

The object of the third part is to show how contact
with European culture has produced in India a break-
ing up of the old systems of Polytheism on the one
hand, and on the other an eclectic Theism, due to a
synthesis of the religious progress made by the two



INTRODUCTION.



races. But I also endeavour, at the same time, to show
how the mysticism, always latent in the Hindu char-
acter, threatens to paralyse all attempts to start the
mind of that people along the less demonstrative course
of European religious life. I have further taken into
consideration what are likely to be the general results,
in the future, of this action and re-action between the
two principal branches of the great Aryan family.

Finally, a concluding chapter contains a statement of
what modern criticism has left of the old beliefs, and
seeks to foreshadow the kind of religious re-construction
for which this residuum of belief may yet serve in the
future. 1

If in our day the religious sentiment is often regarded
as incapable of a new season of bloom, and even des-
tined to a more or less early disappearance, it is because
the present conflict between faith and free inquiry is
held to be fundamental and definitive. Religion, it is
urged, pre-supposes the supernatural, which reason ex-
cludes. It is necessary, however, to come to a clear
understanding as to the meaning of the terms employed
in such a statement as this. If by the supernatural the
anti-natural is meant, that is to say a violation of the
order revealed in nature, in a word the miraculous, then
I readily admit that it must be henceforth abandoned
as utterly irreconcileable with the requirements of every

I. Several chapters of this book have appeared, at various intervals, in the form
of articles published in the Revue des Deux Mondes. But it will be readily under-
stood that I have not been able to unite them in a continuous narrative, like this
work, without considerable modifications, in order to embody such information as
may have been necessary, respecting the changes which are always taking* place in
the factors of religious evolution. The chapters which relate to England and India
have been, as it were, completely re-written.



8 INTRODUCTION.

system of philosophical thought. But if the term super-
natural simply stands for the super-sensible, or what is
above nature, or, indeed, to speak more correctly, what
is above reason, then there is nothing in science which
can proscribe it. M. Littre himself, speaking in the
name of the Positive Philosophy, declares that it is
perfectly legitimate for anyone to transport himself into
the "transrational," if he is so disposed, in order to form
there such ideas respecting the origin and purpose of
things as may please him best ; and Mr. Herbert Spencer
does not hesitate to affirm that the conception of an
Omnipresent Power transcending the limits of know-
ledge is the supreme outcome both of science and
religion. 1

In order to see that reason and religion are not
necessarily in antagonism, it will suffice to remember
that they belong to two different provinces of the human
mind. Philosophy, making use of the materials fur-
nished by observation, formulates a conception of the
universe. This conception the religious sentiment takes
possession of, in order to dramatize, color and idealize it;
and, while seeking in it the symbol of the Unknowable,
which remains as the residiuum of all synthetic philo-
sophy, we also project into it a human element, which
sends back to us an echo of our aspirations towards the
Infinite and the Absolute. Doubtless, a conflict can-
not fail to arise between free inquiry and what appears
to be the religious sentiment as soon as any such
dramatized conception of the Cosmos ceases to corres-
pond with the requirements of science, which may have

I. Littre, Transrationalism in the Revue Positive of January, 1880. Herbert
Spencer, First Principles^ Chapter v.



INTRODUCTION.



gradually become hostile to it. Still, in reality, the
hostility, under these circumstances, is simply between
two scientific conceptions, the more ancient of which,
having become antiquated by the progress of know-
ledge, has not been rejected by religion. Now, this
elimination is only a question of time. Experience
teaches us that, after a greater or less period of oscilla-
tion and groping about for a new support, the religious
sentiment always succeeds in freeing itself from its
antiquated forms, and adopts an explanation of the
universe more in conformity with the revelations of
science and the aspirations of contemporary society.



Online LibraryEugène Goblet d'AlviellaThe contemporary evolution of religious thought in England, America and India → online text (page 1 of 36)