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Rule of Faith.-Limits of the power of language in expressing invisible subjects.
MANY other conversations took place among our party, every one of which might, if reported, show the progress of our mind in the important subject which almost exclusively engaged our attention. The conversation which I am about to relate, was to us all of the greatest service, and it may be said to have settled our minds, by means of the enlarged principles which we have made our guides. I shall report it in dialogue, and MR. M— will as usual denote myself.
MR. M.-I have been constantly dwelling, Mr. Fitzgerald, on all you have said and written (for I am now aware of my obligation to you, in regard to the manuscripts) and my con
clusion is that there exists no rule of faith for
MR. FITZGERALD.--In my opinion, Sir, you have arrived at a wrong conclusion. Christ and his apostles are to me the rule of my life and being, as a Christian.
MRS. CUSIACK.-Yes, my dear Sir. That would be a most delightful rule of faith and morals, if we had Christ and his apostles with
MR. M.-Mrs. Cusiack has anticipated my objection. But I may add that (if as I suppose) you are prepared with the answer, that we have them in the Gospels and the other writings of the New Testament, I beg you to remember that what we have there is a dim copy, a reflected, and perhaps in some points, distorted resemblance of the proposed rule.
MR. FITZGERALD.-And would you rectify the supposed distortions, and remove the dimness. by making the intellectual image of the rule of faith, be reflected without end from thousands of human minds? If the rule of faith appears
to you obscure and uncertain in the New Testament, will it come clearer from the heads of Popes, Councils, and Fathers?
MR. M.-No, certainly, not without a supernatural assistance, upon which, as it is not visible, we cannot depend, unless the promise of Christ was capable of but one sense, as to what it engaged to do, on whom it engaged to do it, and in what circumstances it should be expected. On this point I am already convinced. But my difficulty still revives. If we have no means of fixing the sense of the Scriptures, we might as well be without them.
MR. FITZGERALD.- Do you think that if Christ and his Apostles were still among us, and you could hear their words, you should have infallible certainty that you understood their words in their proper sense?
MR. M.-In that case, if I thought I did not understand them rightly, I would ask again.
MR. FITZGERALD.-That certainly would be a great advantage; but still, could you be sure that you had understood the words of the explanation?
MR. M.-What, Sir? Do you mean that there is no power in language?
MR. FITZGERALD.-No man can doubt that there is power in language: but you seem to make that power unlimited, and equal upon all subjects. Words, when they express objects or actions with which we are experimentally acquainted, have their meaning fixed by the objects expressed. If there is any doubt of the meaning, we show the object, we describe the action, we refer to some feeling, which we make definite by means of external marks. But when words attempt to express things with which no man is acquainted except in his own mind, there is no possibility of ascertaining the exact meaning in which any one individual uses them. You cannot be sure of the meaning of a word, unless you are experimentally acquainted with the thing which the word stands for. If the word represents a conception of another man's mind no other man can be sure that he knows the exact meaning, unless he could be experimentally, acquainted with the conception itself.
MR. M.-In that case, it should seem, that no infallible revelation can be made to man, as long as he remains what he is.
MR. FITZGERALD.-A revelation from God must be infallibly true in itself; or objectively. But it certainly cannot be infallibly understood by fallible creatures; in other words it cannot be infallible subjectively. But, even a revelation thus communicated to fallible man is capable of being understood with various degrees of certainty. Christianity instructs in the clearest manner, when it addresses us upon things with which we are experimentally acquainted. But I do not hesitate to say, that a revelation of things "which pass all understanding" cannot be made to man in his present state with certainty. MR. M.-The Apostles seem to have thought otherwise.
MR. FITZGERALD.-Whence do you deduce this assertion? Do you ever find the sacred writers of the New Testament torturing language like the writer of the Athanasian creed, for instance, in the hope of conveying a supposed