« AnteriorContinua »
a truth in comparison with which all other truths are as dim and isolated sparks beside a pillar of fire that can guide us through a wilderness that we have never even explored.
SIR JAMES STEPHEN.
The paper which began this discussion was entitled “The Influence upon Morality of a Decline in Religious Belief.' The Dean of St. Paul's remarks: It seems to me difficult to discuss this question till it is settled, at least generally, what morality is influenced, and what religious belief is declining. The Duke of Argyll observes that these papers deal with a question very abstract and ill-defined.' Dr. Ward says that the wording of our question is unfortunately ambiguous, and I think that this fact has made the discussion in several respects less pointed and less otherwise interesting than it might have been.'
To these criticisms I reply that the title of my paper contains no question at all, and was not in ended to do so. It is simply an indication, in the most general terms, of the subject to which the paper of which it is the title relates. Anyone who will take the trouble to read the paper will see that its principal object was to assert the proposition with which it concludes, which is in these words :
This [i.e. the whole of the preceding argument) shows that the support which an existing creed gives to an existing system of morals is irrelevant to its truth, and that the question whether a given system of morals is good or bad cannot be fully determined until after the determination of the question whether the theology on which it rests is true or false. The morality is [I should have said "may be ') good if it is founded on a true estimate of the consequences of human actions. But if it is founded on a false theology it is founded on a false estimate of the consequences of human actions; and so far as that is the case it cannot be good; and the circumstance that it is supported by the theology to which it refers is an argument against, and not in favour of, that theology.
The only “question' which my paper was intended to raise is the question whether that proposition is true or not? I do not see how its truth can depend (as the Dean of St. Paul's suggests) upon further particulars as to what morality is influenced, or what theology is declining.' I said nothing about the decline of any particular theological belief, or its influence on any particular system of morals. My proposition would apply to all creeds and all forms of morality.
As to the Duke of Argyll's statement that the question is very abstract and ill-defined,' I should admit its justice if the title of the
paper were taken as the statement of a question. But this is not the
The proposition which I put forward, in the hope that it would be discussed, is no doubt general in its terms, but it seemed, and still seems to me, definite enough to be discussed. As to the ambiguity' of which Dr. Ward complains, I cannot see how my proposition can have more meanings than one.
The papers which have been written subsequently to my paper raise a great variety of points which I feel much tempted to discuss, but I hardly feel at liberty to do so, as they do not in any way qualify anything said by me. Each paper, indeed, is an illustration of the truth of some part of my proposition or of the assertions by which it is introduced; for each shows in various ways how very close is the connection in the writer's mind between the theological system which he believes to be true and the moral system which he considers to be good ; and this again shows that the question of truth must precede the question of goodness, and cannot be determined by any answer which may be given to the latter question. I cannot help thinking that if this were generally understood it would affect very deeply the character of a great proportion of current theological speculation.
NIN E T E EN T H
No. IV.-JUNE 1877.
TO VICTOR HUGO.
VICTOR in Poesy, Victor in Romance,
VOL 1.-N0. 4.
LIFE AND TIMES OF THOMAS BECKET.
Among the earliest efforts of the modern sacerdotal party in the Church of England was an attempt to re-establish the memory of the martyr of Canterbury. The sacerdotal party, so far as their objects were acknowledged, aspired only to liberate the Church from bondage to the State.
The choice of Becket as an object of adoration was a tacit confession of their real ambition. The theory of Becket was not that the Church had a right to self-administration, but that the Church was the supreme administrator in this world, and perhaps in the next; that the secular sword as well as the spiritual had been delivered to Peter ; and that the civił power existed only as the delegate of Peter's successors. If it be true that the clergy are possessed in any real sense of supernatural powers ; if the keys,' as they are called, have been actually granted to them; if through them, as the ordinary and appointed channel, the will of God is alone made known to mankind--then Becket was right, and the High Churchmen are right, and kings and cabinets ought to be superseded at once by commissions of bishops. If, on the other hand, the clergy are but like other orders of priesthoods in other ages and countries—mere human beings set apart for peculiar functions, and tempted by the nature of those functions into fantastic notions of their own consequence--then these recurring conflicts between Church and State resolve themselves into phenomena of social evolution, the common sense of mankind exerting itself to control a groundless assumption. To the student of human nature the story of such conflicts is always interesting-comedy and tragedy winding one into the other. They have furnished occasion for remarkable exhibitions of human character. And while Churchmen are raising up Becket as a brazen serpent, on which the world is to look to be healed of its incredulities, the incredulous world may look with advantage at him from its own point of view, and, if unconvinced that he was a saint, may still find instruction in a study of his actions and his fate.
· Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Edited by James Craigie Robertson, Canon of Canterbury. Published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls. 1876.
We take advantage, then, of the publication of new materials and the republication of old materials in an accessible form to draw a sketch of Becket as he appears to ourselves; and we must commence with an attempt to reproduce the mental condition of the times in which he lived. Human nature is said to be always the same. It is no less true that human nature is continuously changing. Motives which in one age are languid and even unintelligible have been in another alive and all-powerful. To comprehend these differences, to take them up into his imagination, to keep them present before him as the key to what he reads, is the chief difficulty and the chief duty of the student of history.
Characteristic incidents, particular things which men representative of their age indisputably did, convey a clearer idea than any general description. Let the reader attend to a few transactions which occurred either in Becket's lifetime or immediately subsequent to it, in which the principal actors were persons known to himself.
We select as the first a scene at Chinon in the year 1183. Henry Plantagenet, eldest son of Henry the Second, Prince of Wales as we should now call him, called then the young king,' for he was crowned in his father's lifetime, at that spot and in that year brought his disordered existence to an end. His career had been wild and criminal. He had rebelled against his father again and again ; again and again he had been forgiven. In a fit of remorse he had taken the cross, and intended to go to Jerusalem. He forgot Jerusalem in the next temptation. He joined himself to Lewis of France, broke once more into his last and worst revolt, and carried fire and sword into Normandy. He had hoped to bring the nobles to his side; he succeeded only in burning towns and churches, stripping shrines, and bringing general hatred on himself. Finding, we are told, that he could not injure his father as much as he had hoped to do, he chafed himself into a fever, and the fever killed him. Feeling death to be near, he sent a message to his father begging to see him. The old Henry, after past experience, dared not venture. The prince (I translate literally from a contemporary chronicler)
then called his bishops and religious men to his side. He confessed his sins first in private, then openly to all who were present. He was absolved. He gave his cross to a friend to carry to the Holy Sepulchre. Then, throwing off his soft clothing, he put on a shirt of hair, tied a rope about his neck, and said to the bishops
• By this rope I deliver over myself, a guilty and unworthy sinner, to you the ministers of God. Through your intercession and of his own ineffable mercy,
I beseech our Lord Jesus Christ, who forgave the thief upon the cross, to have pity on my unhappy soul.'
A bed of ashes had been prepared on the floor. · Drag me,' he went on, á by this rope out of this bed, and lay me on the ashes.'
The bishops did so. They placed at his head and at his feet two large square stones, and so he died.