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We now come to our principal object. We propose to examine the most distinguishing views, or system of Fenelon. We say, his “system,” for though he seems to write from immediate impulse, his works possess that unity which belongs to the productions of all superior minds. However he may appear to give his thoughts without elaboration or method, yet one spirit pervades them. We hear every where the same mild and penetrating voice, and feel ourselves always in the presence of the same strongly marked mind. What then were Fenelon's most characteristic views? It may be well to observe, that our principal aim in this inquiry, is, to secure our readers against what we deem exceptionable in his system. We believe, as we have said, that he is not free from excess. He is sometimes unguarded, sometimes extravagant. He needs to be read with caution, as do all who write from their own deeply excited minds. He needs to be received with deductions and explanations, and to furnish these is our present aim. We fear that the very excellencies of Fenelon may shield his errors. Admiration prepares the mind for belief; and the moral and religious sensibility of the reader may lay him open to impressions, which, wbilst they leave his purity unstained, may engender causeless solicitudes, and repress a just and cheerful interest in the ordinary pleasures and labours of life.
What then are Fenelon's characteristic views? We begin with his views of God, which very much determine and colour a religious system; and these are simple and affecting. He seems to regard God but in one light, to think of him but in one character. God always comes to him as the Father, as the pitying and puri. fying friend of the soul. This spiritual relation of the Supreme Being, is, in the book before us, his all-comprehending, all-ab. sorbing attribute. Our author constantly sets before us God as dwelling in the human mind, and dwelling there, to reprove its guilt, to speak to it with a still voice, to kindle a celestial ray in its darkness, to distil upon it his grace, to call forth its love towards himself, and to bow it by a gentle, rational sway, to chosen, cheerful, entire subjection to his pure and righteous will. Fenelon had fully received the Christian doctrine of God. He believed in him as the Universal Father, as loving every soul, loving the guiltiest soul, and striving with it to reclaim it to himself. This interest of the Creator in the lost and darkened mind, is the thought which predominates in the writings of this excellent man. God's care of the outward world, of men's outward interests, of the concerns of nations, seems scarcely to enter his mind. It is of God, present to the soul, as a reprover, enlightener, purifyer, and guide to perfection, that he loves to speak, and he speaks with a depth of conviction and tenderness, to which, one would think, every reader must respond.
We have seen the predominant view of the Supreme Being, in the writings which we are examining. He is a Spiritual Father, seeking the perfection of every soul which he has made. Another great qnestion, carrying us still more deeply into Fenelon's mind, now presents itself. In what did he suppose this perfection of He lays open
the human soul to consist? His views on this subject may be expressed in two words, self-crucifixion and love to God. Through these, human perfection is to be sought. In these, and especially in the last, it consists. According to Fenelon, we are placed between two mighty attractions, self and God; and the only im. portant question for every human being, is, to which of these hostile powers he will determine or surrender his mind. His phraseology on this subject is various, and indeed his writings are, in a great measure, expansions of this single view. the perpetual collisions between the principle of selfishness and the principle of religious love, and calls us, with his whole strength of persuasion, to sacrifice the first, to cherish and enthrone the last. This is his great aim. This he urges in a diversity of forms, some of which may be repeated, as helps to a better apprehension of his doctrine. Thus he calls us “ to die to ourselves, and to live to God;"_" to renounce our own wills, and to choose the will of God as our only rule;"_" to renounce our own glory, and to seek the glory of God;”—“to distrust ourselves, and to put our whole trust in God;"_" to forget ourselves, and to give our thoughts to God;"_"to renounce ease, and to labour for God;"_" to sacrifice pleasure, and to suffer for God;". -" to silence our own pas and to listen to the voice of God;' -“to crucify self-love, and to substitute for it the love of God;". "' to surrender our plans, and to leave all things to God." These passages give us Fenelon's theory of perfection. Self, as he teaches, is the great barrier between the soul and its Maker, and self is to vanish more and more from our thoughts, desires, hopes, trast, and complacency, and God to become all in all. Our own interests, pleasures, plans, advancements, all are to be swallowed up in an entire and unreserved devotion to the will of God.
Such is the doctrine of Fenelon, and it is essentially just. Selfcrucifixion or self-sacrifice, and love to God, including love to his creatures, are the chief elements of moral perfection. and noble mind of Fenelon, recognised, as by instinct, and separated from all inferior adjuncts, these essential constituents or attributes of Christian virtue; and there are passages in which he sets before us their deep and silent workings in the heart, and their beautiful manifestations in the life, with a delicacy, power, and truth, which can hardly be surpassed.
Still we think that Fenelon's exposition of his views is open to objection. We think that his phraseology, notwithstanding its apparent simplicity, is often obscure; that he has not set the due bounds to his doctrines; and especially, that refined minds, thirsting for perfection, may be led astray by his peculiar mode of exhibiting it. Our objections we will now state more fully.
We have said, that self-crucifixion and love to God, are, in Fenelon's system, the two chief constituents or elements of virtue and perfection. To these we will give separate attention, although, in truth, they often coalesce, and always imply one another. We begin with self-crucifixion, or what is often called self-sacrifice, and on this we chiefly differ from the expositions of our author, Perhaps the word self occurs more frequently than any other in
Fenelon's writings, and he is particularly inclined to place it in contrast with and in opposition to God. According to his common teaching, God and self are hostile influences or attractions, having nothing in common; the one, the concentration of all evil, the other, of all good. Self is the principle and the seat of all guilt and misery. He is never weary of pouring reproach on self, and, generally speaking, sets no limits to the duty of putting it to a painful death. Now, language like this has led men to very injurious modes of regarding theinselves and their own nature, and made them forgetful of what they owe to themselves. It has thrown a cloud over man's condition and prospects. It has led to self-contempt, a vice as pernicious as pride. A man, when told perpetually to crucify himself, is apt to include under this word his whole nature; and we fear, that under this teaching, our nature is repressed, its growth stinted, its free movements chained, and, of course, its beauty, grace, and power, impaired. We mean not to charge on Fenelon the error of which we have spoken, or to hold him responsible for its effects. But we do think that it finds shelter under his phraseology, and we deem it so great, so pernicious, as to need a faithful exposition. Men err in nothing more than in disparaging and wronging their own nature. None are just to themselves. The truth on this great subject is indeed so obscured, that it may startle as a paradox. A human being, justly viewed, instead of being bound to general self-crucifixion, cannot reverence and cherish himself too much. This position, we know, is strong. But strong language is needed to encounter strong delusion. We would teach, that great limitations must be set to the duty of renouncing or denying ourselves, and that no self-crucifixion is virtuous, but that which concurs with and promotes self-respect. We will unfold our meaning, beginning with positions, which we presume will be controverted by none.
If we first regard man's highest nature, we shall see at once, that to crucify this, so far from being a duty, would be a crime. The mind, which is our chief distinction, can never be spoken or thought of too reverently. It is God's highest work, his mirror and representative. Its superiority to the outward universe, is mournfully overlooked, and is yet most true. This pre-eminence we ascribe to the mind, not merely because it can comprehend the universe, which cannot comprehend itself, but for still higher
We believe, that the human mind is akin to that intellectual energy which gave birth to nature, and, consequently, that it contains within itself the seminal and prolific principles from which nature sprung. We believe, too, that the highest purpose of the universe, is to furnish materials, scope, and excitements to the mind, in the work of assimilating itself to the Infinite Spirit; that is, to minister to a progress within us which nothing without us can rival. So transcendent is the mind. No praise can equal God's goodness in creating us after his own spiritual likeness. No imagination can conceive of the greatness of the gift of a rational and moral existence. Far from crucifying this, to unfold it must ever be the chief duty and end of our being, and the noblest tribute we can render to its Author.
We have spoken of the mind, that highest part of ourselves, and of the guilt we should incur by crucifying or renouncing it. But the duty of self-crucifixion requires still greater limitations. Taking human nature as consisting of a body as well as mind, as including animal desire, as framed to receive pleasure through the eye, and ear, and all the organs of sense, in this larger view, we cannot give it up to the immolation which is sometimes urged. We see in the mixed constitution of man a beautiful whole. We see in the lowest as well as highest cap an important use; and in every sense an inlet of pleasure not to be disdained. Still more, we believe, that he in whom the physical nature is unfolded most entirely and barmoniously, who unites to greatest strength of limbs the greatest acuteness of the senses, may, if he will, derive important aids to the intellect and moral powers from these felicities of his outward frame. We believe, too, that by a beautiful re-action, the mind, in proportion to its culture and moral elevation, gives vigour and grace to the body, and enlarges its sphere of action and enjoyment. Thus, human nature, viewed as a whole, as a union of the worlds of matter and mind, is a work worthy of a Divine Author, and its universal developement, not its general crucifixion, is the lesson of wisdom and virtue.
We go still farther. The desire of our own individual interest, pleasure, good, the principle which is ordinarily denominated selflove or self-regard, is not to be warred against and destroyed. The tendency of this to excess is indeed our chief moral danger. Selfpartiality, in some form or other, enters into and constitutes chiefly, if not wholly, every sin. But excess is not essential to self-regard, and this principle of our nature is the last which could be spared. Nothing is plainer than that to every being his own welfare is more specially committed than that of any other, and that a special sensibility to it is imperiously demanded by his present state. He alone knows his own wants and perils, and the hourly, perpetual claims of his particular lot; and were he to discard the
himself for a day, he would inevitably perish. It is a remark of great importance, that the moral danger to which we. are exposed by self-love, arises from the very indispensableness of this principle, from the necessity of its perpetual exercise; for, according to a known law of the mind, every passion, unless, carefully restrained, gains strength by frequency of excitement and action. The tendency of self-love to excess, results from its very importance, or from the need in which we stand of its unceasing agency, and is, therefore, no reason for its extermination, and no reproach on human nature. This tendency, however, does exist. It is strong. It is fearful. It is our chief peril. It is the precipice, on the edge of which we always tread. It is the great appointed trial of our moral nature. To this tendency, unresisted, tamely obeyed, we owe the chief guilt and misery of the. present state, the extinction of charity, a moral death more terrible than all the calamities of life, This truth Fenelon felt and taught as few have done, and in his powerful warnings against this peril, the chief value of his writings lies. He treats, with admirable acuteness, the windings of self-partiality, shows how it
mixes with the best motives, and how it feeds upon, and so consumes our very virtues. All this is true. Still, self-love is an essential part of our nature, and must not and cannot be re. nounced.
The strong tendency of this principle to excess, of which we have now spoken, explains the strong language in which Fenelon and others have pointed out our danger from this part of our constitution. But it has also given rise to exaggerated views and modes of expression, which have contributed, perhaps, as much as any cause, to the universal want of a just self-respect. Selflove, from its proneness to excess and its constant movements, has naturally been the object of greater attention than any other principle of action; and men, regarding it not so much in its ordinary operations as in its encroachments and its triumphs over, other sentiments, have come to consider it as the chief constituent of human nature. Philosophers, “falsely so called,” have la-, boured to resolve into it all our affections, to make it the sole spring of life, so that the whole mind, according to their doctrine, may be considered as one energy of self-love. If, to these remarks, we add, that this principle, as its name imports, has self or the individual for its object, we have the explanation of a very important fact in the present discussion. We learn how it is, that self-love has come to be called by the name of self, as if it constituted the whole individual, and to be considered as entering into and forming human nature as no other principle does. А man's self-love, especially, when unrestrained, is thus thought to be and is spoken of as himself; and hence the duty of crucifying, or renouncing himself, bas naturally been urged by Fenelon, and a host of writers, in the broadest and most unqualified terms.
Now, it is not true that self-love is our only principle, or that it constitutes ourselves any more than other principles; and the wrong done to our nature by such modes of speech, needs to be resisted. Our nature has other elements or constituents, and vastly higher ones, to which self-love was meant to minister, and which are at war with its excesses. For example, we have reason, or intellectual energy given us for the pursuit and acquisition of trutb; and this is essentially a disinterested principle; for truth, which is its object, is of a universal, impartial nature. The great province of the intellectual faculty, is, to acquaint the individual with the laws and order of the divine system; a system, which spreads infinitely beyond himself, of which he forms a small part, which embraces innumerable beings equally favoured by God, and which proposes as its sublime and beneficent end the evergrowing good of the whole. Again, human nature has a variety of affections, corresponding to our domestic and most common relations; affections, which in multitudes overpower self-love, which make others the chief objects of our care, which nerve the arm for ever-recurring toil by day, and strengthen the wearied frame to forego the slumbers of night. Then, there belongs to every man the general sentiment of humanity, which responds to all human sufferings, to a stranger's tears and groans, and often prompts to great sacrifices for his relief. Above all, there is the