The Destinies of Ecclesiastical Religion: A Concio Ad Clerum. Frederic H. Hedge, D.D. Berry Street Essay, 1666 Read before the Ministerial Conference May 30, 1866 THERE has been much lamenting of late about the want of recruits for the gospel ministry. The body of the Clerus is not re-enforced from year to year by men who can fill with acceptance the vacancies caused by retirement and death, or meet the demands of the new congregations which are yearly springing up, and which, however they may differ in other respects, are strikingly unanimous in asking that the preacher sent them be one of commanding ability. One would say that never was harvest so plenteous, and never surely were laborers so few. The youth of the universities are slow to enter a profession which ought to attract the best spirits and the richest talents to its service. The vigor and talent of this generation seek other channels, and leave the pulpit to be served hereafter with inferior ministrations, if served at all. Various causes have been assigned in explanation of this deficiency, and various methods proposed for replenishing the ranks, which are growing thinner in numbers, and, as some will have it, poorer in quality, from year to year. A portion opine that the difficulty lies in the meagre temporalities with which parishes second the spiritual service: others ascribe it to the ever-increasing opportunity and solicitation of industrial adventure; others still, to the fickleness of popular, parochial favor, on which the ease and stability of clerical fortunes so largely depend. I cannot think that either or all of these causes suffice to account for the evil in question. I impute it to moral and intellectual, rather than prudential, reasons. I impute it to certain prevailing influences, partly scientific and partly social, which have alienated the youthful mind from the old sanctities and ecclesiastical uses with which religion has been associated in time past. The fact is, the spirit of the age, or the speculative mind of the age, as in the decline of republican Rome, has broken with ecclesiasticism. I believe the rupture to be merely temporary. Society requires a Church, requires ecclesiastical organization for the use and maintenance of public worship, and, with varying method and symbol, will have them, until the New Jerusalem, descending from the heavens and organizing itself in human practice, shall realize the word of the seer, "I saw no temple therein." A Church there will be, ecclesiastical organizations there will be: science may modify, but cannot abolish them. The speculative mind of the age must accept them, and adjust itself with them, or else go down before them as one of the false prophets and spirits of antichrist, which from time to time, as we read, "have gone out into the world." Meanwhile, I respect the scruple which detains a young man from this ministry, who is conscious in himself of no internal vocation for the office. Without that vocation, the minister's function is the hardest and dreariest of all pursuits. Without that vocation, there will either be mechanical routine, oppressing and quenching the life of the spirit; or, with greater intellectual activity, there will be a retarding friction between thought and function, between the private conscience and the old traditional requirements; speculation will put the brake on devotion; there will be an insincerity in the sacraments, fatal to the spiritual health of preacher and hearer; or, if sacraments be abandoned as indigestible formalities, too tough for the feeble stomach of "Naturalism," the mere statedness of worship will become at last an intolerable burden. To make the ministry profitable, or even tolerable, —I mean the ministry in existing communions, I do not mean those exceptional associations which are formed on the simple basis of prophetism, — there must be a decided preponderance of religious sensibility, and even of ecclesiastical consciousness, over speculative and critical tendencies of mind, a preponderance which shall make the positive truths and traditional requirements of the Church seem more important, in the preacher's estimation, than his private speculations or his critical doubts. There is a place for criticism, for thorough, unsparing criticism, and frank negation of all that criticism finds untenable. I certainly have no quarrel with criticism: I am only speaking of the function of the pulpit in existing ecclesiastical relations. Not critical demolition, but practical edification, it seems to me, is the pulpit's true function. I would not have the preacher ignorant of the negative results of criticism; but they should not stick out in his preaching. He should know how to merge and absorb them in the positive doctrine of his broad and reconciling word. He should not, regardless of time and place, say all he knows, or thinks he knows, much less all that he fancies or suspects. What! shun to declare the whole counsel of God? Not if you surely know what that counsel is. Who has that certainty? You deny that the whole counsel of God is contained in the Bible. You deny, in the words of another, "that the whole mind of God, as made known to man, has been put in print, and consigned to the bookbinder." Very true! but let this truth be impartially implied. Beware of supposing that the whole mind of God is contained in the text-books of science; that recorded observation embodies all that is, or can be. The dogmatism of theology is bad, but the dogmatism of unbelief is no better. There is a wisdom, not of concealment (for that implies trickery), but of reticence. So far, I think, the distinction of esoteric and exoteric is perfectly consistent with Christian simplicity and rectitude of purpose. "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." It takes two to make truth. The object presented is one of the factors; the mind to which it is presented is the other. Truth is a right relation between the two. Change the condition, the point of view of the mind that receives, and you change that relation. The proposition which is true to one mind, with its given conditions, may not be true to another with very different conditions. The truths of science present the same aspect, and therefore are equally true to every mind that is capable of comprehending the literal import of the propositions which contain them. No difference of mental condition can make the statement that an equilateral triangle has equal angles more or less true. But outside of the realm of exact science, and especially in the region of theology, you can hardly lay down a proposition which shall be absolutely true to all minds and times. Hence the separation which philosophy has sought to establish between the field of science proper and the supersensuous world of metaphysic and religion. In that separation consists the essence of what is called the "Positive Philosophy." It has recently been proposed to apply the principle of positivism to theology, and religion has been declared to be in danger of dissolution unless that application is made. The proposition mistakes, I think, the essential nature of the subject. The truths of theology are not topics of scientific knowledge, but of faith. We cannot know them as we know the facts of science, although the assurance of them may be as great or greater than that which science gives. In religion "We have but faith, we cannot know; For knowledge is of things we see." We may systematize those facts of psychology on which the truths of theology rest, and may formulate inferences from them; but the gulf which divides the facts experienced from the facts inferred, the beliefs from the objects of those beliefs, is one which no science can bridge. Respect "the deep irony of God," which baffles every attempt to fix his idea by scientific demonstration. But, waiving all this, the proper element of religion, the only element in which religion can thrive and be a power in society, is an element of mystery and faith, the very opposite of positivism. Explode that element, and you have a caput mortuum, intelligible enough, but soulless and powerless, a mummy instead of a living organism. For here especially it is true that— "Our meddling intellect Misshapes the beauteous forms of things We murder to dissect." The world of knowledge and the world of faith are principially distinct. They are not even concentric circles. The world of science is a little epicycle which rides the deferent of an unknown orb. It is a great mistake to suppose that religion is the offspring of theology. On the contrary, theology is the offspring of religion. Science would never give it: scarcely will science recognize it. Even now, in some of its prominent representatives, science prefers an atheology instead. You may substitute science for religion; but you cannot identify them, you cannot square them. It is like squaring the circle, — an insoluble problem. Therefore I say, "The Bible or the Mathematics," — the spirit or the flesh, —as the basis of preaching. "Theism and atheism," it is said, "are in the scales, and Science holds the balance." The saying reminds me of many things. "To-morrow, gentlemen, I shall make you a God," said Science, speaking through the lips of a German professor. And certainly Fichte was as well qualified for this species of manufacture as any Positive philosopher of our time. Carlyle once told me of a man who came to him with a cherished project. The age had lost its God, he said; thence all the woes of this evil time. Something must be done, and that straightway. He had hit upon a plan for remedying the difficulty, — a cheap magazine, to be called the "Elah." Would Mr. Carlyle be a contributor, and so aid the good work of restoring God to the people of Great Britain? Heinrich Heine, whose sarcasms had not always so legitimate an object, has satirized the application of science to theology, alike in its negative and positive results. He likens Kant to Robespierre, and thinks the former the greater terrorist of the two. "The ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ was the sword with which Theism was beheaded in Germany." —"You French are tame people compared with us Germans. The most you could do was to behead a king, and he had lost his head already before you cut it off. And, in doing that, you made a drumming and a screaming and a trampling with the feet that shook the whole earth. Really, it is doing Maximilien Robespierre too much honor to compare him with Immanuel Kant." —”Kant far exceeded Robespierre in terrorism; but they had much in common. . . . In both there was a spice of cockneyism. Nature had designed them to weigh coffee and sugar; but Fate willed that they should weigh quite other things, and placed for one a King, for the other a God, in the scales." —”Since Kant's polemic, theism has been extinct in the realm of speculative reason. It will take some centuries to disseminate the doleful tidings; but we philosophers have put on mourning long ago. You think you can go home now. Wait a bit. There is another piece to be performed. After the tragedy comes the farce. Hitherto Kant has shown himself the inexorable philosopher. He has stormed heaven and earth, and made the whole celestial concern walk the plank. The Sovereign of the universe lies weltering in his blood, unproved. There is no infinite mercy; no fatherly goodness, no reward beyond the grave for continence here. The immortality of the soul lies at the last gasp. Everywhere death-rattle and death-moans; and old Lampe [Kant's servant] stands by, a mournful spectator, with tears in his eyes. But now Immanuel Kant has compassion, and shows that he is not only a great philosopher, but a good man. And he says to himself, half good-naturedly, half ironically, ' Old Lampe must have a God, he can't be happy without; and man was made to be happy. So says practical reason. Well, then, let practical reason vouch for the being of God.'" Alas for mankind if Science holds the balance between theism and atheism! I have a notion that He who "hath comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales," himself holds the balance, where Science, with her shallow theisms and atheisms, the one as shallow as the other, are in one scale, and the everlasting Mystery in the other; and I rather think that wise men at present, after the example of Lessing, will cast their votes into the latter scale. The first attempt to apply positivism to theology, according to an ancient myth, was made by a youth at Sais, who sought certainty behind a forbidden veil, and found death. The meaning of the myth is fitly expressed in the phrase "dead certainty." A very significant phrase! We say a calculation is reduced to a dead certainty. Observe the fatal propriety of the word "dead" in this connection. Absolute certainty belongs to the past, — fait accompli. And the past is dead. Dead certainty, — the death of inquiry, the death of expectation, the death of hope. Do you want absolute certainty in religion, the understanding's ultimate? You want death. Will you look into the sepulchre for the Lord of life? He is not there, "he is risen." Behold, he re-appears! Will you pin him now with your inquiries? A cloud receives him out of your sight. Will you peer into the blue for the vanishing assurance? "Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" Go to work; and the Comforter, Truth, will come down out of the heavens, and work by your side. The scientific mind of the age has fallen out with its ecclesiasticism. Whose is the fault? No blame to either party. It is a mutual misunderstanding, such as will sometimes arise in well-regulated families. For both belong to one family after all, — Christian society. A temporary misunderstanding. Mutual jealousy of each other's rights. Ecclesiasticism, good mother, refuses to perceive that her full-grown daughter, Science, having now arrived to years of discretion, can no longer be kept in leading-strings, and fed on pap, but must be allowed to judge for herself, and to regulate her own diet. And when the fond dame pursues the strapping lass with bib and porringer, "Here, my love, is the sincere milk of the word, better for you than those bard rocks and all your ologies," no wonder the daughter becomes impatient, and conceives an unconquerable disgust for the proffered harmless diet. On the other band, the daughter forgets that the mother is still, by divine right, mistress of the house which she holds by hereditary title, and held before Science was born, and will hold, with whatever modification of structure and name, for indefinite time. Society may outgrow this or that particular ford of Church life; but society can never outgrow the idea of the Church, and will not, in our day, outgrow the tutelage of religion. Mr. Wasson, in his eloquent inaugural discourse, "The Radical Creed," has expressed a contempt for the idea of "ecclesiastical continuity," as having its source in the notion of "an inspired institution, which, by its mechanical working, shall grind out divine truth and law." I can by no means adopt this view of the matter. Ecclesiastical continuity is not the perpetuation of an institution which acts mechanically, nor indeed of any institution at all, or any human device, but the recognition and visible representation of a fact. That fact is the progressive, divine education of human society, considered as one organic and continuous whole. The ecclesia is society conscious of its unity and calling in God, —society in its Godward relation; and ecclesiastical continuity is the continuity of human growth and divine education. It is the main current of humanity flowing down from an unknown past, distinguished in different periods by different dispensations, but the same in all; sometimes moving, with fleet foot, beneath the impulse of fresh revelation; sometimes caught in the doldrums of a stagnant sacerdotalism, but never immovably fixed; receiving into itself contributions, affluents, from all religions and civilizations, identical with none, though identified with one or another in each stage of its course, as at present with the Christian, that being the chief minister of human progress for this millennium. Ecclesiastical continuity is therefore the method of history. Not to recognize it is not to recognize the divine significance of history: it is to want the key to the right understanding of the problem of history. It is to sever, to one's own apprehension, the spinal cord of humanity: it is to make the religious convictions of each period the accidental product instead of the mating of the time. Ecclesiastical continuity means that mankind do not consciously and wilfully foreshape their own future; that history is not the product of human foresight, but divine ordination, education; that we are under tutelage, one schoolmaster after another having charge of the race for a season, and, in fulness of time, delivering up his charge to the next. That schoolmaster for the time being is not an institution, but an idea, or system of ideas, to which the institutions of the time owe their birth. We are under this tutelage of ecclesiastical continuity: we cannot escape it. The individual may think he is rid of it: but his fancied emancipation is only the flight of the aeronaut, who seems to detach himself from the earth when he cuts the rope which held his balloon; but all the while an invisible rope—we call it gravitation— has fast hold of him. The length of his tether is the quantity of gas there is in him. The gas escapes, the tether shortens; the gas all gone, ecclesiastical continuity resumes its sway. There goes, I fancy, a conceit among that class of secularists whose secularism rationalizes its dissent, that the Church as a power is about to retire from public life, though Christianity as a principle may survive; that Christianity, as an administration of more than a thousand years' standing, must soon deliver up its portfolio, its sacred books, and, if recognized at all, exist as a pensioner of the new regime. It may be so, and it may be that periodical hibernation is mistaken for decrepitude and demise. All along the course of history there have been periods of religious indifference, when forward wits would suppose that the Church of the time was moribund, supernaturalism effete, and philosophy or naturalism about to assume the stewardship of such sanctities as might still command the faith of mankind. In the latter half of the century preceding the Christian era, and the first of the century following, intelligent and cultivated Romans had lost their faith in the popular religion, although the conservative among them refrained from open contempt of the established rites. Yet Cicero, the gravest of conservatives, in his work, De Divinatione, argues with Quintus, his brother, against the possibility of any such knowledge of the future as superstition ascribed to the haruspices. He would have the function maintained as a part of the established religion for religion's and the republic's sake; but "between ourselves," he says, "I don't believe in it." —”Quam ego reipublicae cause, communisque religionis, colendam censeo, sed, soli sumus; licet verum exquirere sine invidia, mihi praesertim de plerisque dubitanti." Yet, though he denied for himself the validity of their vaticinations, he condemned the consuls, P. Claudius and L. Junius, for disregarding them: "Parendum enim fuit religioni, nec patrius mos tam contumaciter repudiandus." Yet this cautious conservative could say, in the Senate, that only in poetry and on the stage did the gods intermeddle in human affairs. Other writers of the time concurred with Cicero in relegating traditional religion to the region of popular superstition, reserving for philosophy the natural interpretation or critical elimination of the ancient beliefs. Livy coolly speaks of Numa's religious institutions as excellent devices for influencing, in those days, the ignorant multitude. Quintus Curtius thought nothing so efficacious for the governance of the rude rabble as superstition. Fill their minds with religious nonsense, he says, and they will mind the priest, if they do not obey their secular leaders: "Melius vatibus quam ducibus suis paret." Varro distinguished three kinds of religion, — the mythological, for poets and the stage; the natural (naturalism), for philosophers and wise men; and the ceremonial, for the people. The learned could not accept the crude religion of the stage and the State: they must have a religion of their own. Whereupon St. Augustine exclaims in the "City of God," "O Marcus Varro! thou most acute of men, and without doubt the most learned, thou art still but a man and no god, and hast not been led by the spirit of God to the seeing and proclaiming of things divine, to the furtherance of truth and of freedom. Thou seest that things divine should be separated from human folly and lies, but thou fearest to offend popular opinion and custom in the matter of public superstitions. Thou desirest to worship the God of Nature, but art forced to worship the God of the State." Already Lucretius had made atheism popular,— had commended it by the charm of his immortal verse. Enlightened Rome no longer believed in the gods. Even the unlearned, according to the testimony of Juvenal, had outgrown the traditional faith in a future retributory state. Cicero himself says that no old woman could be found so inept as to tremble at what was once universally received. A philosophic observer, from the time of Sulla to the time of Vespasian, would have said that the old religion was utterly effete; that the Flamens must presently doff their fillets, and grave haruspices, for very shame, confess and renounce the solemn joke. But religions die hard: altars that once have burned with the sacrifices of faith do not go out until new altars are ready to receive the flame. Although, fifty years before the Christian era, Epicurus was praised at Rome for delivering mankind from the fear of the gods, and Cicero and Varro and others had promulgated naturalism; though theism and naturalism divided intelligent minds, a half-century before Christ,—four centuries after, the Roman Senate, through the lips of her ablest representative, pleaded for liberty to worship those gods whose empire was now invaded by a far more formidable enemy than theism or atheism, the only foe that could ever dispossess them, — a new revelation, a new ecclesiasticism. To take an example from Christian ages. The revival of letters in Europe was followed by a similar divorce of the intellectual and spiritual life of the age from the ecclesiastical. A courtier of Leo X., or a reader of the Epistolae Obscuforum Virorum, might have fancied, not merely that the Church as a polity was tumbling, but that Christianity as a form of faith had sunk into hopeless decline. And again, toward the close of the eighteenth century in France, the encyclopaedists and the men of letters deemed Christianity outgrown, and made enlightenment synonymous with unbelief. Voltaire was tired of the name of Christ; but Voltaire patronized theism, commending the Almighty in sounding verse. Robespierre undertook, with a coup de theatre, to place it on the throne of a desecrated, disevangelized world. You know the result, — with what refluent zeal, with what fierce regurgitation, the repulsed and insulted faiths came trooping in the wake of the allied armies; with what re-assured consciousness they presided at the treaty of Vienna; and how in France of the Restoration ecclesiastical continuity resumed its sway. Some thirty years ago, a club was formed of young men, mostly preachers of the Unitarian connection, with a sprinkling of elect ladies,— all fired with the hope of a new era in philosophy and religion, which seemed to them about to dawn upon the world. There was something in the air, —a boding of some great revolution,— some new avatar of the Spirit, at whose birth these expectants were called to assist. "Of old things, all are over old; Of good things, none are good enough: We'll show that we can help to frame A world of other stuff." For myself, though I hugely enjoyed the sessions, and shared many of the ideas which ruled the conclave, and the ferment they engendered, I had no belief in ecclesiastical revolutions to be accomplished with set purpose; and I seemed to discern a power and meaning in the old, which the more impassioned would not allow. I had even then made up my mind, that the method of revolution in theology is not discession, but development. My historical conscience, then as since, balanced my neology, and kept me ecclesiastically conservative, though intellectually radical. There haunted me that verse in. Goethe's bright song, "The General Confession,” as applicable to ecclesiastical incendiarism as it is to political: — "Came a man would fain renew me, Made a botch and missed his shot, Shoulder shrugging, prospects gloomy: He was called a patriot. And I cursed the senseless drizzle, Kept my proper goal in view; Blockhead ! when it burns, let sizzle; When all's burned, then build anew." Others judged differently: they saw in every case of dissent, and in every new dissentient, the harbinger of the New Jerusalem. "The present Church rattles ominously," they said: "it must vanish presently, and we shall have a real one." There have been some vanishings since then. Ah me! how much has vanished! Of that goodly company what heroes and heroines have vanished from the earth! Thrones have toppled, dynasties have crumbled, institutions that seemed fast rooted in the everlasting hills have withered away. But the Church that was present then, and was judged moribund by transcendental zeal, and rattled so ominously in transcendental ears, is present still. It was finally resolved to start a journal that should represent the ideas which had mainly influenced the association already tending to dissolution. How to procure the requisite funds was a question of some difficulty, seeing how hardly philosophic and commercial speculation conspire. An appeal was made. Would Mammon have the goodness to aid an enterprise whose spirit rebuked his methods and imperilled his assets? The prudent God disclaimed the imputed verdure; and the organ of American Transcendentalism, with no pecuniary basis, committed to the chance and gratuitous efforts and editing of friends, if intellectually and spiritually prosperous, had no statistical success. It struggled, through four years, with all the difficulties of eleemosynary journalism; and then, significantly enough, with a word concerning the "Millennial Church," sighed its last breath, and gave up the ghost. I prize the four volumes among the choicest treasures of my library. They contain some of Emerson's, of Theodore Parker's, of Margaret Fuller's, of Thoreau's best things; not to speak of writers less absolute and less famous. Meanwhile, the association, if so it could be termed, had gradually dissolved. Some of the members turned papists,— I should say sought refuge in the bosom of the Catholic Church. A few of the preachers pursued their calling, and perhaps have contributed somewhat to liberalize and enlarge the theology of their day. Some have slipped their moorings on this bank and shoal of time. One sank beneath the wave, whose queenly soul had no peer among the women of this land. Of one "A strange and distant mould Wraps the mortal relics cold." Finally, a fragment of this strangely compounded body lodged in a neighboring town, and became the nucleus of an agricultural enterprise in which the harvest truly was not plenteous, and the competent laborers few; and of which, the root being rottenness, the blossom soon went up as dust. What is the lesson of history and private experience concerning revolutions in religion? Ecclesiastical continuity, —that we are under tutelage. The Church does not exist by the will of man, but by his constitution. It cannot be abolished by the will of man; it cannot perish by disaffection. Only a new Church can supplant the old. And the new Church will not be an association of thinkers and critics, with correct and rational theories of God, discarding supernaturalism, and planting themselves on abstract theism. Such associations exist under all dispensations; but they have never succeeded in planting a Church, or supplanting one. In India, at this moment, in the midst of the popular polytheism, there exists a flourishing association of this description,—the sect of "Brahmas," pure theists. I received, not long since, a clever discourse from one of this body, entitled "Man the Son of God," in which Jesus Christ and Theodore Parker are coupled together as the two great lights of human kind. Theism is a theory of the universe which may or may not be true, but will never constitute a Church, and will never supplant one. A Church is the embodiment of a spiritual force, which, sallying from the heart of God, creates a vortex in human society that compels the kingdoms, compels the eons, in its conquering wake, and tracks its way through the world with a shining pyschopomp of saintly souls. It seems to me somewhat important to understand this difference between a Church, and a school of religious philosophy. I care not whether a man be conservative or radical in his theology, provided he has sight of this fact; provided also he possesses the faculty of self-criticism, which shall teach him his own limitations, and the limits of his theme. Conservatism is wise, so it be the conservatism of intelligent homage to the past, and not the conservatism of worldliness and self- interest, or fear. But radicalism is wiser: I mean the radicalism of disciplined thought, not of impatience, of pugnacity and self-conceit. Wiser yet, wisest of all, is that historic sense which acknowledges the good in both these tendencies, but is too wide-eyed and self-possessed to be entangled with either; which sees that both are polarizations of a truth that neither quite comprehends; which recognizes the fact of tutelage, and knows that mankind must have spiritual leaders; and that, of spiritual leadership, the qualification and main constituent is not learning or philosophy or eloquence or any kind of intellectual eminence, but spiritual overweight, attained and attested by entire humiliation; that only to him who, being in the form of God, can take upon himself the form of a servant will every knee bow.