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In the preceding volume we traced the origin of the multitudinous religions of the ancient and modern world to their roots in the soul of man. “All these religions set themselves to respond to some craving of the heart or head of man, to satisfy some instinct, dimly felt and ill read; and however various, however contradictory they were in their expression, they did fulfil their office in some sort, else they would never have lasted a day. They differ, unquestionably, according to the stage of thought-development of the several peoples and nations which embraced them; but their differences ought, if man is progressive, to be capable of arrangement in a series of progressively advancing truths.”
It has been made clear that one truth was conspicuous here—say in Mosaism, that another truth was prominent there-say in Hellenism ; it has been shewn that each religion was imperfect because it was partial, it maintained only one truth or one aspect of the Truth; and it was this partiality which was the ruin of each.
That which mankind wanted, and wants still, is not new truths, but the co-ordination of all aspects of the truth. In every religion of the world is to be found distorted or exaggerated, some great truth, otherwise it would never have obtained foothold; every religious revolution has been the struggle of thought to gain another step in the ladder that reaches to heaven.
That which we ask of Revelation is that it shall take up all these varieties into itself, not that it shall supplant them; and shew how that at which each of them aimed however dimly and indistinctly, has its interpretation and realization in the objective truth brought to light by Revelation. Hence, we shall be able to recognize that religion to be the true one, which is the complement and corrective of all the wanderings of the religious instinct in its efforts to provide objects for its own satisfaction.
Starting from the great facts and laws of human nature and the universe, I have shewn that in them is contained the whole scheme of Christianity. I have shewn that the law of the universe is infinite analysis infinitely synthesized. I have shewn the existence everywhere of an antinomy. I have argued that evil and error are the negation of one factor in this antinomy; that, for instance, is evil which synthesizes without projecting individualities by careful analysis. In what consisted the error of the ancient religions of the world ? In the negation of the opposed facts. In what consists the adaptability of Christianity to the indefinite perfection of humanity ? In its conformity to the natural law, by insisting on the co-ordination of all truths, by consecrating at once solidarity and individuality, in maintaining unity in the midst of particularization.
The drowning man may be saved by a plank or a rope, but there are circumstances in which plank or rope can not avail him. How much better for him to have learned that in himself is the principle of buoyancy, and then rope and plank will be serviceable though not indispensable. Scripture and Tradition have been the rope and plank to man drowning in a flood of doubt. Scripture has yielded, Tradition has given way ;-must he sink ? By no means. The principle of Christianity is within him, let him strike out and gain the shore.
In anticipation of hostile criticism from certain religious periodicals and journals, I must distinctly repudiate having undertaken to give an exhaustive account of Christian dogma. If the Incarnation be a divine fact, ten thousand generations of men will not exhaust the truths it contains. I have chosen certain aspects of Catholic doctrine for illustration and elucidation, but I do not pretend to have given all. This applies especially to the chapters on the Atonement and on Immortality. And in speaking of the evidence for the Incarnation, in the Scriptures, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I am examining it from an impartial point of view, such as would be taken in a court of law, and that I in no way deny their inspiration when I dispute the cogency of their evidence. I admit, for argument's sake, every objection raised against their authority ;-objections not groundless nor necessarily hostile ; and I shew that nevertheless the evidence for the Incarnation is too strong to be overthrown.
I am not aware of any book having taken the line I have adopted; but I thankfully acknowledge a debt of
1 The Roman “Catholic World,” the high Anglican “Church Review,” and the extreme Protestant “ Press and S. James' Chronicle,” have agreed to denounce me as a gross materialist, a thorough rationalist, and an undisguised infidel.
gratitude I owe to writers who have treated in part of a system I have taken as a whole. Especially am I indebted to one of the most original thinkers of the Gallican Church, the Abbé Gabriel, especially for much in Chap. II., also to the Calvinist pastor, M. Charles Secretan, to the Chevalier Bunsen, to M. Thiercelin, to M. de Strada, and to several of the German Hegelianists on the right and on the left. I confess that to Feuerbach I owe a debt of inestimable gratitude. Feeling about, in uncertainty, for the ground, and finding everywhere shifting sands, Feuerbach cast a sudden blaze into the darkness and disclosed to me the way.
Far be it from me to make any pretence to originality or research that are not mine. I may call this book the history of my own religious difficulties and searchings after the truth. That these difficulties are shared by thousands in England and abroad, I am well aware ; that my book may produce conviction and rest in other minds is my highest aim.
I have said that I make no pretence to originality. Every intellectual work is a filiation of the individual and society, of the past and the present. Our ideas are formed by assimilating the thoughts, the observations of others, and that part which is really our own often escapes us. The child is occasionally strangely unlike its parents, and the idea formed in our minds is sometimes very different from the ideas from which it was engendered.