Copyright
Various.

Christianity and Modern Thought online

. (page 7 of 20)
Online LibraryVariousChristianity and Modern Thought → online text (page 7 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


did not salute with words of good greeting, but for centuries it was the
habit in Andalusia, when one Spaniard met another, to say to him, _Ave
Maria purissima_, and the other answered, _Sin pecado concepida_, which
means that that dogma was proclaimed every time two persons met. This
dogma has been taken into special favor by the very powerful order of
Jesuits. They thought it was important to the church; it was putting
Mary in the highest honor, to have that dogma become the law of the
church. But up to the present century, up to last year in the Roman
Catholic Church, people could believe it or not; now the Pope has
declared that henceforth every man who does not believe that dogma is
eternally lost and damned. This he has decreed, after consulting with
some bishops, with whom he conferred about it, but declaring that he did
so of his own accord, because, as pope, he had a right to decide on
that. He said, it is no new doctrine; it has always been in the church.
As the great writer Father Perrone wrote, "That dogma has been
developing itself in the church a long time." When I saw the Church of
Rome speaking of a dogma "developing itself," I thought, This is the
beginning of the end. If they understand that dogmas develop themselves,
that they have not fallen like aerolites from the heavens, it seems to
me that that is the end of infallibility. Some people think it was the
beginning of infallibility, that it was the Pope for the first time
declaring a dogma for all men without consulting officially or legally
any one, and that when he had done this he had augmented his power. I
must remark here, that when a pope is very weak, the general rule is, he
does something extremely strong. When he is extremely weak, politically,
materially, he generally makes some great demonstration of spiritual
power. When Pope Gregorius VII. kept Henry in his shirt a whole night at
the door of the castle of Canossa without opening the door to him,
saying, "You are a sinner, do penance," - when he did that, the Pope had
been expelled from Rome, he had lost Rome, therefore he must prove his
immense spiritual power, because his temporal power was lost. And when
the present Pope has done acts of authority greater than any other pope,
it has not been because he was strong, but because he was weak; to
remain on his throne he wanted to have the bayonets of Louis Bonaparte
to keep him in power. His own subjects would very soon have shown him a
second time the way to the frontier, if they had not been prevented by
the bayonets of that man. Thus the Pope did more towards asserting and
confirming his own power than any of his two hundred and fifty odd
predecessors. When afterwards he took a new step, it was in continuance
of this. He called a council when three hundred years had elapsed since
an [oe]cumenical council had been called. I know old Roman Catholic
families who had been waiting for centuries for the moment when an
[oe]cumenical council should assemble, to denounce before that council
the encroachments of the Pope, and to ask that the popedom be kept
within bounds for the future. Pio IX. had an [oe]cumenical council
called, and held it in his own house, in the Vatican. And there, in one
end of one of the transepts of the immense church of Saint Peter, the
Pope had himself declared infallible by the council. Thus all the other
councils which had been the hope of such persons in the church as could
not accept every word of the Pope, all those councils have been
sacrificed, have abdicated, in the last of them, at the foot of the
Pope. Now, the Roman Catholic Church has become very logically, what it
ought to become, the same thing in the spiritual world that the Roman
Empire became in the temporal world. The Roman Emperor was every thing;
there had been priests and magistrates who had great powers; then the
emperor made himself dictator, consul, tribune of the people; made
himself high bridge-maker; took upon himself all dignities. He was every
thing; and then the whole Roman Empire was one man; and sometimes it
happened that that man was a mad man like Caligula, who said, "I am
sorry that all men have not one head that I might cut it off." Such was
the unity of the Roman Empire, and we see the same fact in the Roman
Catholic Church to this extent, that there is one human brain that
thinks for all Roman Catholics in the world, and if that human brain
decides that such a thing is or is not, all other human brains must
believe it, or be damned eternally; there is no choice. This is
perfectly logical; this is not an unexpected change; this must have come
to pass. As the Pope became physically weak, the more absolute became
the necessity that this should be done. Now, he is weak, he has lost
Rome. Although it was not in my way, I passed through Rome a few months
ago for the purpose of seeing Rome free, and it was an immense joy to
see that. I had seen Rome groaning under that proud, domineering
government of the priests, who declared that their government was the
best in the world, while the whole world called it emphatically _il mal
governo_. Now I have seen it free; and I think no Bonaparte of France,
nor any French Government, nor any other government, had any right to
give up Rome to the priests, to prevent the Romans from being masters in
their own house, from being free in their own city. I must declare to
you, that if in one sense the Roman Catholic Church has lost a great
deal because she has lost that great tradition, lost that long habit of
ruling in Rome, and the high prestige that comes from it, yet the Roman
Catholic Church has gained more perhaps than she has lost in this. You
must not believe that the Roman Catholic Church is to disappear
to-morrow, or the next day: that shall not happen. There are hundreds of
thousands of souls who like better to have one man on a throne thinking
for them, taking on his conscience and his honor the question of their
salvation, - they like that better than to think for themselves; and
there will be Roman Catholic churches for a long time to come. They will
even be stronger in one sense, because that temporal power was so
exercised that it caused great weakness; and now the Pope will be
strengthened; will find more interest and sympathy, because he is a king
without a crown, a king without a throne: in his weakness he will find
new strength.

What must we do, we Protestants, in the presence of this fact? Must we
exaggerate, must we be unfair in our attacks? No. Must we go to sleep,
thinking there is nothing to do? No, not that either. We must work; we
must work steadily to give light and instruction to all. We have
here, - and I have tried in a very rapid way to give you an idea of
it, - we have here history. That is the greatest of weapons in such a
case as this. Usurpers never like history, because they know very well
that history condemns them. We must make history known, make the facts
known, and proclaim liberty and the rights of the human conscience. We
must do that over the whole world. I do not believe that Protestantism,
as it has often been said, is nothing else but Roman Catholicism
stripped of some of its abuses, and without some of its errors. It is
something else. If there were time, and I could begin now instead of
ending, I would try to show you that in the history of Protestantism,
and even before Protestantism appeared, there has always been, next to
that stream of power of Roman Catholicism, always becoming stronger and
more encroaching up to these last days, another current of protest;
there have always been men struggling for faith with liberty, who said,
"That cannot be;" who understood better the Gospel, who liked the spirit
of the Gospel, the spirit of God in Christ, better than the spirit of
Rome. For centuries their mouths may have been closed; their speaking
and teaching punished by death; but always they became more and more
numerous, and active, and vigorous; and then came the great day of
Luther. Protestantism has not been a negation, a remnant of Roman
Catholicism, the negative side of Christianity. I cannot adopt that idea
in the least. True Protestantism is full of the spirit of the Gospel; it
is the living soul of Christ in the Church, it embodies the perfect
conviction that there is truth, that there is salvation, that there is
liberty, in the Gospel, and nowhere else so completely.

Now, we must consider the Roman Catholic Church as being an organization
of power, the most dreadful, the most tyrannical, the most crushing
organization of power that ever was. It is the master-piece of Roman
genius. It has been preparing during centuries, and it has been complete
only since yesterday. It is a great organization against liberty,
against man's rights, against man's conscience, for the honor of a
church and of a man. And this we must resist, too. In my country, I
declare that the cause of all our ills, the fact that is at the basis of
all our suffering and all our misfortunes, is nothing else than Roman
Catholicism. This is against the conscience of many souls; this throws
many people into sheer Atheism, because they see no choice between
kissing the shoe of the Pope, as is done in ceremonies, and denying the
existence of God. So they deny God rather than submit to the Pope. We
must give them sound teaching, religious teaching; we must give them
the Gospel. And I came to this country to say these things to you; to
ask you to help us with all your might, and with all your heart, to do
what is necessary should be done in France to-day; what will be
necessary to be done in this country sooner or later, and what will be
necessary to be done in all countries, to show more and more that "where
is the Spirit of the Lord, there is liberty."




SELFHOOD AND SACRIFICE

By ORVILLE DEWEY.


The title which I have chosen for this discourse, is Selfhood and
Sacrifice. My purpose is, to consider what place these principles have
in human culture. I use the word, selfhood, rather than self-regard or
self-interest, because I wish to go back to the original
principle - selfhood, according to the analogy of our language,
describing the simple and absolute condition in which self exists; as
manhood does that of man, or childhood, that of a child. And I say
sacrifice, rather than self-sacrifice, because the true principle does
not require the sacrifice of our highest self, but only of that which
unlawfully hinders outflow from self.

The subject of culture has been brought before the public of late, by
Professor Huxley, and Matthew Arnold, and Mr. Shairp. I do not propose
to enter into the questions which have engaged their able pens, but to
go back to those primary and foundation principles, which I have
proposed to consider - the one of which is the centre, and the other, the
circumference of human culture, - Selfhood and Sacrifice.

It is the object of this course of lectures, in part at least as I
understand it, to discuss this subject - to discuss, _i.e._ the
principles and grounds, on which right reason and rational Christianity
propose to build up a good and exalted character. Now with regard to
what Christianity teaches, has it never occurred to you, or has it never
seemed to you, in reading the Gospels, that they appeal to
self-interest, to the desire to be saved, in a way that is at variance
with the loftiest motives? But it is appealed to, and therefore is, in
some sense, sanctioned. And yet, as if this self-interest were something
wrong, the prevalence of it in the world, the world's selfishness in
other words, is represented by many preachers, as if it were the sum of
all wickedness, the proof indeed, of total depravity. Here then, it
seems to me, whether we look at Christianity or at the teachings of the
pulpit, there is urgent need of discrimination. And there is another
aspect of the same subject, which seems to require attention; and that
is what is called, individualism - the mentally living, if not for, yet
in and out of ourselves; claiming to find all the springs and forces of
faith and culture within ourselves, to the exclusion of the proper
influence of society, of Christianity, of the whole great realm of the
past, by which we have been trained and formed; individualism, which
says, "I belong to myself, and to nobody else, and do not choose to be
brought or organized into any system of faith or action with anybody
else." This, indeed, is an extreme to which, perhaps, but few minds go;
but there is a tendency of this kind, which needs to be looked into.

Now there is a way of thinking, in matters of practical expediency, to
which I confess that I am committed by my life-long reflections; and
which has always prevented me from going to the extreme with any party,
whether in reforms, in politics, in religious systems, or in any thing
else; and that is, to look to the mean in things; to look upon human
nature and human culture, as held in the balance between opposing
principles. With this view, I shall first undertake to show that the
principle of self-regard, or of individualism, is right and lawful - is
indeed, an essential principle of culture.

There is a remarkable passage in the old "Theologia Germanica," which
hits, I think, the very point in this matter of self-regard. Speaking of
its highest man, it says, "All thought of self, all self-seeking,
self-will, and what cometh thereof, must be utterly lost, surrendered
and given over to God, _except in so far as they are necessary to make
up a person_." This personality, this stand-point, we must hold to, go
where we will.

But let me state more precisely what it is, that is here conceded, and
must be maintained; and why it is important to defend and justify it. I
call it selfhood; and the word, I conceive, is philosophically necessary
to meet the case. Because it is a principle, that goes behind
selfishness; and of which selfishness is the excess and abuse.
Selfishness calculates, overreaches, circumvents. But selfhood is
simpler. It is the instinctive, instantaneous, uncalculating rush of our
faculties, to preserve, protect and help ourselves. Selfishness proposes
to take advantage of others; selfhood only to take care of itself. It is
not, as a principle of our nature, a depraved instinct; animals possess
it. It is not moral, or immoral, but simply unmoral. It is a simple
force, necessary to our self-preservation, to our individuality, to our
personality. The highest moral natures feel it as well as the lowest.
The martyr, who gives up every thing else, holds his integrity fast and
dear. It is written of the great Martyr, that, "for the joy that was set
before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame." No being that
is not an idiot, can be divested of all care and regard for himself. And
not only does necessity enforce, but justice defends the principle. If
happiness is a good, and there are two equal amounts of it, the one of
which is mine, and the other my neighbor's, I may in strict justice,
value and desire my own as much as his. If I love his more than my own,
I go beyond the commandment. It is not worth while to put any Utopian
strain upon the bond of virtue; nay, it does positive harm.

Yet this is constantly done; to the injury of virtue, of conscience, and
of a proper self-respect. In our theories of culture, we demand of
ourselves, what is impossible, what is unjust to ourselves, what
repudiates a part of the very nature we would cultivate. We demand of
ourselves, and we suppose that Christianity demands of us, a certain
unattainable perfection, - or what we call perfection, - a sinking of
ourselves out of sight, and an absorption into the love of God and men,
quite beyond our reach: and failing of that - thinking it entirely out of
our sphere, we give up the proper rational endeavor to be Christians. We
make the highest virtue something exceptional, instead of regarding it
as a prize for us all. We imagine that some few have attained it; that
Jesus did, and that a few persons, denominated _saints_, have approached
him; but that for the common run of men, this is all out of the
question. The fact is, that Christianity is regarded by many, as an
enigma, a secret of the initiated, as an idle vision or hard
exaction - not as a rational culture. Listen to the conversation of the
mart or the drawing-room, you will find that the high Christian law is
but a mocking dream in their eyes. "Giving to him that asketh, and from
him that would borrow, turning not away, and to him that takes from us
our coat, giving our cloak also; and turning the other cheek to the
smiter;" - what is this, they say, but extravagance and fanaticism? As if
they did not know that there is such a figure of speech as hyperbole;
and that it was perfectly natural, in a society where the poor and the
weak were trodden under foot, for the greatest heart that ever was, thus
to pour out itself in pleadings for sympathy, commiseration and
kindness. But the same Master said, "It is profitable for thee - it is
better for thee," to have some of thy pleasures cut off - thine offending
hand or eye; rather _that_, than to have thy whole being whelmed in
misery.

It is really necessary in this matter, not only to vindicate
Christianity as a reasonable religion, but to vindicate human nature to
itself; to save it from the abjectness of feeling that the necessity of
self-help is an ignoble necessity. Men say, "Yes, we are all selfish, we
are all bad;" and they sink into discouragement or apathy, under that
view.

The conditions of true culture are attracting increased attention at the
present time; and it is natural that they should, when men's minds are
getting rid of theologic definitions and assumptions, and are coming to
take broad and manly views of the subject. I am endeavoring to make my
humble contribution to it; and with this view, to show, in the first
place, what part our very selfhood, both of right and of necessity, has
in it.

This principle lies in the very roots of our being; and it is developed
earliest in our nature. Before the love of right, of virtue, of truth,
appears this self-regard. Disinterestedness is of later growth. Infancy
comes into the world like a royal heir, and takes possession, as if the
world were made for itself alone. Itself is all it knows; it will by and
by, take a wider range. There is a natural process of improvement in the
very progress of life. "You will get better," says a dramatic
satirist,[7] "as you get older; all men do. They are worst in childhood,
improve in manhood, and get ready, in old age, for another world. Youth
with its beauty and grace, would seem bestowed on us, for some such
reason, as to make us partly endurable, till we have time to become so
of ourselves, without their aid, when they leave us. The sweetest child
we all smile on, for his pleasant want of the whole world to break up,
or suck in his mouth, seeing no other good in it - would be roughly
handled by that world's inhabitants, if he retained those angelic,
infantile desires, when he has grown six feet high, black and bearded;
but little by little, he sees fit to forego claim after claim on the
world, puts up with a less and less share of its good as his proper
portion, and when the octogenarian asks barely for a sup of gruel or a
fire of dry sticks, and thanks you as for his full allowance and right
in the common good of life, - hoping nobody will murder him - he who began
by asking and expecting the whole world to bow down in worship to
him - why, I say, he is advanced far onward, very far, nearly out of
sight."

[Footnote 7: Browning: A Soul's Tragedy, p. 250.]

This advancement, thus springing out of the very experience of life, I
am yet to consider, and have it most at heart to consider. It is of such
priceless worth, it so embraces all that is noble in humanity, that the
importance of the opposite principle, is liable to be quite overlooked.
Selfishness, which is the excess of a just self-regard, is the one form
of all evil in the world. The world cries out upon it, and heaps upon it
every epithet, expressive of meanness, baseness and guilt. And let it
bear the branding scorn; but let us not fail to see, though selfishness
be the satirist's mark, and the philosopher's reproach, and the
theologian's argument, the real nature and value of the principle, from
which it proceeds.

Selfhood I have preferred to call it; self-love, be it, if you please.
It is that, which satire and false criticism have misconstrued, when
they have said that love of kindred, of friends, of country, of God
himself, is but self-love. The mistake arises from that primal and vital
part and participation which ourself has in every thing that we enjoy or
love or adore. This magnificent _I_ - and I emphasize it, because all
meanness is thought to be concentred in that word - this mysterious and
magnificent _I_ - this that one means, when he says I - we may utter, but
can never explain, nor fully express it. There are great men in the
world, whose lives are of far more importance than mine - statesmen,
commanders, kings - but _I_ - no being can feel an intenser interest in
his individuality than I do in mine; no being can be of more importance
to himself than I am to myself; the very poles of thought and being turn
upon that slender line; that simple unity, like the unit in figures,
swells to infinite multiplication; that one letter, that single stroke
of pen or type, may be varied and complicated, till it writes the
history of the world. "I think, therefore I am," said the philosopher;
but the bare utterance of the word I, yields a vaster inference. No
animal ever knew what that word means. It is some time before the little
child learns to say, I. It says, "Willy or Ellen wants this or
that - will go here or there." What is insanity, but the wreck of this
personality? The victim loses himself. And the morally insane, the
prodigal, when he returns to reason and virtue, comes to himself.

"A man's self," says Thackeray, "must always be serious to him, under
whatever mask or disguise or uniform he presents it to the public." Yes,
though it were as mime, harlequin, jester fool almost; nor could there
be a more deplorable or desperate condition for a human being, than to
account himself nothing, or nothing worth, or worthy only to be the butt
of universal scorn and contempt. From this utter ruin, every man is
protected by that mysterious and momentous personality that dwells
within him. We may be little in comparison with the general mass of
interests, little in comparison with kingdoms, little in comparison with
the swelling grandeur of thrones and empires, little in comparison with
the great orb that rolls round the sun, and bears millions of such; but
we are forever great in the sense of individual destiny. _This_ swells
beyond kingships, grandeurs, empires, worlds, to infinitude and
eternity.

There is another element in this selfhood, to be considered, besides its
conscious importance, and that is free will - itself also unmoral, but
indispensable. For imagine a rational being to be placed in this world,
_without_ free will. He can choose neither wrong nor right. He has a
conscience, but no freedom; no power to choose any thing. It is, I
think, an incongruous and impossible kind of existence; but imagine it.
Evils, troubles, temptations press against this being, and he can do
nothing; he cannot even will to resist. Could there be a condition more
horrible? No; man is a nobler and happier being than this amounts to.
Free will is put in him, on purpose to fight the great battle against
evil. He could not fight, if he could not will. He could not choose the
right, without being free to choose the wrong; for choosing one path
without being at liberty to take the other, would be no choosing. Free
will is to fight the battle. It is a glorious prerogative. And man, I
believe, is out of all proportion, happier, with this power, all its
aberrations included, than he would be without it. I am glad for my
part, that I am not passing through this world, like a car on a
railroad, or turning round like a wheel in a mill; that I can go, this
way or that, take one path or another; that I can read, or write, or
study, or labor, or do business; and that when the great trial-hour,
between right and wrong, comes, though I may choose the wrong, yet that
I _can_ choose the right. What better would there be for me than
this - what better constitution of a rational nature? I know of no better
possible.

Selfhood, then - this interest in ourselves, being seen to be right, and
the play of free will which is a part of it desirable; let us turn


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryVariousChristianity and Modern Thought → online text (page 7 of 20)