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pation of Individualism, which had been arrested, was recommenced.
One morning I passed a road-maker at work. A spring had bubbled up in the middle of the hard-trodden path, and the workman was engaged in beating stones into its bore and choking it with clay and gravel. He triumphed —the spring had disappeared, and I continued my course. But in the evening, on my return, after the road-maker had left his task for the rest of night, I found the water bubbling up once more, busily undoing his work, rolling away one stope, then another, clearing its throat and purifying its channel.
It was a picture of Christianity. Throughout the Middle Ages cart-loads of rubbish had been emptied into the open fountain of man's individuality, it had to all appearance been choked, and the way was stamped hard over it. But in the sixteenth century it broke out again, and it is running still. It has not yet accomplished its work however, it has left undone much that has to be done, and it has done much that it ought not to have done.
Theory had taken the precedence over observation in the Natural Sciences, which had been elaborately piled up into a gorgeous fabric of fantastic extravagance. Scientific fancies were accepted on the authority of Galen, Pliny, S. Isidore, and Peter Lombard, and taught dogmatically in the schools
“ Those ancient homesteads of error,
And yearly by many hundred hands
To blossom and ripen in other lands.” Leonardo da Vinci, long before Bacon, laid down the maxim that experience and observation must be the foundation of all reasoning in science; that experiment is the only interpreter of nature, and is essential to the ascertainment of its laws. This was the commencement of the movement in Natural Philosophy; it was followed by the publication of a work on the principles of equilibrium by Stevinus, in 1586. Six years later Galileo's treatise on Mechanics appeared, a fitting commencement to his brilliant career of astronomical discovery.
When Halley's comet had drawn its line of light over the sky in 1456, Europe was panic-struck. Calixtus II. issued his ecclesiastical fulminations; but the comet pursued its course undeterred by the thunder of the monarch of the three realms. Among the clergy there were, however, those who had more correct cosmic ideas than Calixtus. Cardinal de Cusa ventured to adopt the heliocentric theory in opposition to the authority of the Church, which had affixed its imprimatur to the geocentric theory.
But Copernicus, the Dane, was the first boldly to refute the received doctrine. Bruno of Nola advanced to the conception of every star being a sun, with opaque planets in revolution around it. For teaching the rotation of the earth he had to flee to Switzerland from his Dominican convent, and thence to England, whence also he was driven for his heresy. Seized by the Inquisition, and burnt alive at Rome in 1600, he died with his torturers' jeers in his ears, bidding him go to the imaginary worlds he had so heretically feigned
“If the doctrine of Copernicus be true, the planet Venus ought to shew phases like the moon, which is not the case;" so had said the objectors to the heliocentric theory.
Galileo made a telescope, and for ever settled the question, by shewing that the expected phases do actually exist.
In the garden of Cardinal Bandini at Rome, in
1611, Galileo publicly exhibited the spots upon the sun. He had observed them the preceding year. Goaded on by the opposition his astronomical discoveries were bringing upon him, he published a tract to shew that the Scriptures were not intended as a scientific authority. sentenced by the Inquisition for having taught that the earth moves, and that the sun is stationary; and fearing the fate of Bruno, he recanted. Condemned again in 1637, for reaffirming his convictions, he was thrown into the prisons of the Inquisition, where he lost sight and hearing, and dying, was refused burial in consecrated ground
But the work was done, experience had been proclaimed the basis of science, and authority was overthrown.
The reform of Luther was another insurrection of individualism against an oppressive authority. In that lay the secret of its success. The human spirit felt its need of expansion after long compression. It was not the love of novelty and change which wrought that mighty convulsion, the doctrines of the reform were not new, they were identical, as far as they went, with those held by the Catholic Church ; but the reforming movement responded to a demand for liberty, indistinct, scarcely expressed, obscurely felt, perhaps, but it was through that that the movement obtained its impetus, in spite of the contradictions of its chiefs, their vagaries and outrageous follies, and in opposition to the prevision of philosophers who weighed only the doctrines they professed.
The Reformation marked the outbreak of individualism against authority in the order of dogma. Everything knowable being at that time matter of faith, reason was forced to attack the principle of authority in its citadel.
What matters it that the promoters of that convulsion had, at the outset, but a vague idea of their purpose? The history of the Reformation shews us that its governing spirit was not criticism, but the passion for liberty.
The onward movement was arrested for a while by the Reformers taking their stand upon the authority of the Bible. They opposed the hypothesis of the Book to that of an incorporated society. But the circle of liberty has been constantly enlarging beyond the limits of the sacred text, within which only a dead remnant devoid of power remain entrenched, and consume one another with their faction fights, like the Jews in the Holy City on the eve of its fall.
The work of Luther was thus the establishment of private judgment as the measure of religious truth.
The work was carried on in another field by Descartes. Descartes, groping about him for some character which should give reality to his thought and his existence, and finding none other except the double fact of thought and existence, whose evidence was irresistible, was led to make this evidence the sign of all certainty. “Having remarked,” said he, “ that there is nothing in this: I think, therefore I am, which assures me that I say the truth, unless I see very clearly that to think I must be, I judged that I might assume, as a general rule, that the things which we conceive very clearly and very distinctly are all true, but that there is some difficulty in distinguishing which are those we conceive distinctly.” And again, “I am assured that I am a thing that thinks; but do I not also know what is requisite to make me certain of anything ? Certainly, in that knowledge there is nothing which assures me of the truth, except the clear and distinct perception of what I say, which perception of truth would not be sufficient to
1 Discours de la méthode, 46 partie.
assure me that what I say is true, if it could ever happen that something I conceived equally clearly and distinctly should prove false. Nevertheless it seems to me that already, I can establish as a general rule, that all things which we conceive very clearly and very distinctly are true.”
Such is the grand modern principle, which, applied to morals and politics, was to produce a complete revolution. It would be to exaggerate the glory of Descartes to attribute to him a knowledge of the various applications which were to be made of a rule so fecund in results.
Thus, whilst the Reformation subjected the interpretation of Scripture and matters of faith to private judgment, Descartes, putting these things on one side, gave to private judgment the compactness of a formula, and the authority of a demonstrated verity. He reduced to the last precision that principle, vaguely felt and working in a cloud during the Reformation; but he displaced its centre and changed its application.
The principle of Descartes is emphatically the principle of liberty. Liberty is the power of taking a determination and of conforming one's actions to it. In psychology, liberty is confounded with will, for the question of knowing whether I am free is no other than that of knowing if I can exert my will, and this again is no other than the principle of assertion of individuality.
When Descartes makes evidence the rule of his judgment and of mine, he recognises that he and I can judge. The principle of evidence, supposing the faculty of judging and assuring the exercise of judgment, is therefore that of liberty, just as the principle of authority is its opposite, taking from me my own power of judging and forcing my acquiescence in a superior judgment.
1 Méditations touchant la philosophie première, 2nde méd.