Imatges de pàgina

against them that communicators of the prophecies must have had in view to bring the King into peril of his crown and life. "The accused were not brought to trial • no defence was allowed," says the historian.

[ocr errors]

Sir Thomas More, while he would not deny that he had believed the maid to be inspired, yet, with the aid of friends, contrived to make his peace with the King, and to have his name erased from the bill, by making the confessions required of him, and throwing himself unreservedly on the King's clemency; but stout old Bishop Fisher "disdained to acknowledge guilt when he knew himself to be innocent." Cromwell urged him to acknowledge his offence, and entreat the royal pardon. In reply, Fisher explained that he could not do so-he had committed no fault. He could not betray his conscience; the consciences of others he did not condemn, but he could not be saved by any conscience but his own. He justified himself in a letter to the House of Lords, affirming that on the most trustworthy evidence he had found the maid to be of good character; that he had conversed with her; that in her revelations she spoke not of any violence to be offered to Henry, but of the ordinary visitations of Providence; that there had been no attempt to keep her revelations secret; that she had herself personally apprised the King of the revelation made to her concerning him. He protested he was guiltless of any conspiracy. "He knew not, as he would answer before the throne of Christ, of any malice or evil that was intended by her or any other creature unto the King's highness.

[ocr errors]

But the House of Lords dared not listen to the voice of innocence in opposition to the royal pleasure; and though, for a time, Fisher's life was spared, he had to compound for his safety by the payment of a heavy fine to the crown. The solemn declaration, however, of one so informed, and so conscientious and fearless as this good bishop, should go far to exculpate the unfortunate Maid of Kent from the charges of her persecutors, and they altogether outweigh the prejudiced conjectures of modern historians "looking back with eyes enlightened by scientific scepticism.'

The execution of the sentence of death against Elizabeth and her companions in misfortune was not long delayed; nor was it unexpected by her, as both the time and place of her death, together with the persons appointed to be present when she should receive the fiery crown of martyrdom, had been shown her by the angel. At her execution, at Tyburn, April 21,1534, it is said she confessed to have been the dupe of her own credulity, but pleaded, in extenuation, that she was only a simple woman, whose ignorance might have been an apology for her conduct, but that the learned clerks, who had received and encouraged her revelations, should

have dispelled her illusion. Poor Elizabeth! no wonder if, under her burdens, and in apprehension of the fiery ordeal through which she had to pass, her faith failed her; but her very misgivings were, at least, a proof of her sincerity; and though she may indeed, have been deluded in considering her spiritual experiences as investing her with a Divine commission, those experiences were, doubtless, real; and it is, indeed, a pity that the learned clerks, to whom she so touchingly alludes, did not understand and appreciate them in a better and more discriminating spirit. T. S.




THE inquiry, What is Religion? will, I doubt not, to many seem superfluous, if not, indeed, impertinent. What! it will be said, in this middle of the Nineteenth Century of the Christian Era, after all our preaching, tract-distributing, and missionary enterprise, and with all the machinery of our churches and religious societies in full operation; can any person in our midst, not grossly and shamefully ignorant, deem that such an inquiry is at all needed ?* And yet, without depreciating the labours of earnest self-denying Christian men, or denying that the churches have done good, it may still perhaps be found that the very circumstances which, at first view, might seem to preclude all occasion for so simple and fundamental a question, in fact render its consideration not the less, but the more urgent. Amid the jangle of sects, the din of controversy, the confusion of tongues, and the multitude of counsellors, the simple wayfarer may well feel bewildered and ask, "How shall I decide when learned doctors so widely, and apparently so hopelessly disagree?"

This is a matter not for the consideration of the churches only, nor is it one in which we have no special concern; it is coming home to us as Spiritualists; and it is neither possible nor desirable to evade it. In the Spiritual Magazine for February, the editor says of certain speakers at a recent convention of Spiritualists, they seem to think that Spiritualism is a new religion, and that it is their religion;" and he thereupon very ably, and I think successfully, proceeds to controvert that position,


*From a calculation recently made by Dean Ramsay, it appears that the number of sermons preached in Great Britain amounts to nearly four millions per annum.

The point thus at issue, however, suggests to my mind the necessity for a careful consideration of what I may call the previous question that which I have placed at the head of this article; for until we have decided for ourselves what religion is, we are scarcely in a position to determine whether Spiritualism, or any other ism, is a religion at all, either new or old.

The question, I may say too, is not mine: it was recently put to me by a highly-intelligent Spiritualist with whom I had the pleasure of enjoying Christmas-day. The conversation naturally turned on the great festival that day celebrated throughout Christendom. I remarked on its antiquity, and its derivation from the customs of pagan Rome: my friend, who holds the view of Spiritualism attributed to the speakers at the Darlington Convention, hinted that I was surely becoming heterodox; and on my rejoining that though the celebration of Christmas was a good and venerable custom, an institution to be greatly respected, it no more formed a part of religion than the plum pudding with which in England it is generally associated, I was asked the question, " Well, then, what is religion?" The desultory character of conversation precluded the subject from being pursued far, but the article to which I have made reference having revived in my mind the question, I propose to make it the subject of a few observations, premising, however, that while I think Spiritualists generally will not dissent from the views I shall present, I do not presume to represent, either directly or indirectly, any opinions but my own; I feel somewhat dubious as to fairly representing even them.

I think it may facilitate and simplify our inquiry to eliminate what is foreign to, or but incidentally associated with, religion; to put aside and assign to their proper place those accretions and non-essentials which are too often confounded with its very substance, and which are interposing veils between our vision and the Divine reality. To remove, if possible, some popular misconceptions, alike of its enemies and its friends; to shew what is not religion, though too often mistaken for it, may perhaps, by thus dispelling the surrounding mist, aid the mind to discern for itself more clearly what religion essentially and truly is.

In a matter which so nearly concerns men, individually, as well as collectively, it is sad that they so generally take current opinions en bloc, or equally, with awful lack of discrimination, reject them and religion itself altogether in the lump. King Prescription, like Nebuchadnezzar of old, sends forth his heralds to cry aloud, "To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the golden image that the king hath

set up." To this mandate we may fairly reply "O King, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. We will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up, for we know that the smith with his hammer, and the carpenter with his plane, and the graver with his cunning art have fashioned them." But while we protest against this assumption of lordship over conscience in the name of religion, not therefore are we to confound the idols which men's hands or men's imaginations have made, with Him who made the earth and the sea, and all that in them is; nor yet with an opposite faction, conclude that because He does not come within the range of their telescopes, that therefore He is not.

Religion then, I affirm, is not a matter to be taken on trust, to be accepted (for if accepted it may be discarded) at the word of command; it is not belief at second-hand, and on mere authority. There is no such thing as religion by proxy, any more than there is eating one's dinner by proxy. If you think you have religion because you believe that somebody else believes it, you simply deceive yourself, you really believe only that some person or body is wiser in the matter than yourself: need I say that that is not religion.

Religion is indeed, in one sense, a precious inheritance, and is endeared by associations with the past, and strengthened by ties of sympathy; but, like the paternal estate, it needs continuous cultivation if we would reap the harvests it is capable of bearing. We cannot simply take to religion with the good-will of the business, the old furniture, and the family plate.

To assert, as some have done, that religion is all the invention of priests, for their own power and profit, is simply and strictly preposterous-a mistaking effects for causes-a putting the cart before the horse. As well assert that the custom of eating food is but the cunning, selfish device of butchers and bakers. The soul has its hunger as well as the stomach; if it had not needed its spiritual food, there would have been no priests. That (like the bakers and butchers) they often adulterate their goods, and serve them of poor quality, and at extravagant prices, proves only how urgently the world feels its need of spiritual supplies, and its present inability to dispense with even the poor and costly services such men can render; but it is not they who have created religion, it is religion which has created the need of them.

The denial of human authority as the source of religion cuts at the root of all mere Sacerdotalism and Ecclesiasticism, whilst it derogates nothing from the true function and office of the priest as the minister to man's spiritual requirements:-truly a noble function, but he is the servant of religion, it is the foulest usurpation and blasphemy where he affects to be its ruler and

judge, and to exercise lordship over conscience. Nor can this be within the province of any aggregation of persons, or of any corporate body, whatever its pretensions and antiquity. Religion is before and beyond, and deeper than all churches; it makes and unmakes, and remakes churches; itself only God-made in the constitution of human nature. Religion, then, is not priestcraft-is not Ecclesiasticism.

Nor, again, is religion merely Ritualism. Probably few, if any, would affirm baldly and nakedly that it is; but that which is predominant in a religious system and in its public celebrations comes to be not unreasonably regarded as its special characteristic: hence, to superficial observation, and often even in the estimation of sincere votaries, religion is chiefly a thing of ceremonial observances, of genuflexions, ablutions, fumigations, vestments, decorations, mystic rites, and other bodily acts and external things. That rites and observances have their fitting place in private devotion and public worship is not here contested; what that place is, I hope hereafter to shew, at present I simply protest that Ritualism is not religion.

It has been remarked that religion is not the mere acceptance of other people's beliefs. I now go farther and affirm that belief, simply as such, and separate from the moral element of fuith, or in other words, mere opinion about religion, no more makes a man religious, than his opinion about shoemaking makes him a shoemaker. For, traced to its origin, what is opinion but the outcome of a certain intellectual process; a man from certain data (reasonable or unreasonable as the case may be, but assumed by him as true) draws (logically or otherwise) certain conclusions according to the nature of the evidence presented to him, and of his mental powers, natural and acquired, exercised thereupon. The nature of the operation is the same whatever be the subjectmatter. It is an intellectual problem (sometimes a terribly tough one), like a move in chess, or a proposition in Euclid, and there is about as much, or as little, religion to be got out of the process in the one case as in the other. I am not here discussing the question of the formation of opinion and the nature and degree of the responsibility on other grounds attaching thereto, and am far from asserting that opinion on any matter, and especially on so grave a matter as religion, is of no consequence; or that opinion has no bearing on religion, no moral side, no formative influence on character. I only here affirm that belief or opinion per se is not religion.

So again, history is not religion. And here I make no distinction (for I find none) between "secular" and "sacred." All history, rightly regarded is sacred. In the history of the Jews I see, in a marked degree, a record of God's providential

« AnteriorContinua »