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"For men to be tied and led by authority, as it were with a kind of captivity of judgment, and though there be reason to the contrary not to listen unto it, but to follow like beasts the first in the herd, they know not or care not whither, this were brutish. Again, that authority of men should prevail with men, either above or against Reason, is no part of our belief. Companies of learned men, be they never so great and reverend, are to yield unto Reason; the weight whereof is no whit prejudiced by the simplicity of his person which doth allege it, but being found to be sound and good, the bare opinion of men to the contrary must of necessity stoop and give place." -RICHARD HOOKER, "Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity," Book ii., ch. vii., 6.
JESUS OF NAZARETH
"WHY even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" (Luke xii. 57.) This is the stern question put by Jesus of Nazareth to certain hypocritical persons who were addicted to slight and superficial methods of enquiry, and who neglected the means and instruments of rational investigation. They took notice of outward things, but did not penetrate to inward causes. Their notions of what was right may have been founded upon mere prejudice; evidently they were not the product of judgment. "Why even of yourselves judge ye not ?" Why are you satisfied
come in your way?
with any outside husk which has Questions like this are not asked in these days; rather is it thought a respectable and proper thing to "follow a multitude," not one of whom may have taken the trouble to judge what is right; and it is even regarded as a reprehensible thing to judge anything to be right which is without the sanction of certain special authorities.
What is it that we mean by judging? Is it simply approving what is current? Is it just assenting to particular dogmas because others do so? Or is it not, rather, the asking why they assent, and whether they do so upon grounds which are reasonably convincing? And as we all come of a fallible stock, is it not implied in the
very act of judging that we may go wrong? And are we, therefore, dispensed from judging? May we, on this account, abandon the attempt to judge what is right? Can we at all abandon it? If we should determine to do so, and to accept the judgment of some one else—Pope or Council-we have already committed ourselves to the judgment that this particular way is right.
We cannot abdicate the function of judging, though we may exercise it in a blind and perfunctory manner. But then we are told that Creeds and Articles are matters too deep and recondite for the lay intellect, and that the vast apparatus of learning and enlightenment possessed by the clergy is alone sufficient for the explication of these mysterious formulas. And how is this proposition to be made evident? How are we to know that it is right and true? "Why even of yourselves judge ye not ?”
At the risk, therefore, of being wrong, we must do our best to judge what is right, "esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt." (Heb. xi. 26.) We take upon ourselves the burden he laid on us; and it is better that we should bear it and stumble under it, even to falling, rather than slavishly attach ourselves to "the fleshpots of Egypt." To judge, is to try— to examine-to consider-and perhaps, after all, to fail; but he who reproached his audience because they did not judge, knew all this, and yet did not exonerate them from the hazard and the toil. And the difficulties are not lighter now. Reward there is none, unless it be internal; of hard words and evil speaking we have enough, if it should happen that the conclusions arrived at do not accord with approved standards. The penalty may be borne. Now let us begin at the beginning.
Belief is a state of mind induced by evidence. As to much the largest quantity of beliefs entertained by human beings, the evidence upon which they are grounded
has been received unconsciously and unenquiringly. A child believes, we may say, instinctively that the persons whom it calls father and mother stand to it in those relations. The question, in fact, never arises in its mind. The impulse to receive with unquestioning faith what it is told is a primitive and needful one, and is exercised without praise or blame. No one would blame a child for believing whatever passed current among those with whom it was brought up. The history of Robinson Crusoe, of Rip Van Winkle, of Jack the Giant Killer, or of Joseph and his Brethren, would be, to a young child, equally credible if each were presented to it with equal gravity and apparent sincerity; and the belief so engendered has to be got rid of, either upon the authority of certain trusted persons, or by an exercise of the understanding. To believe upon evidence of some sort is one of the conditions man cannot escape from. The first intellectual faculty which comes into existence is belief or trust. To the persons surrounding him, a child owes everything he has, and can look to no other or higher source for what he stands in need of. His daily life is wholly provided for by others, his questions are answered by them, he is warned of dangers by them, he is guided and instructed by them, and, in short, is indebted to them for all he has and is. He, therefore, depends upon them, he confides in them, until by intercourse with others he acquires fresh information, which may destroy or confirm the credit of what originally he had relied upon. What is here stated is no peculiarity of Christianised or civilised people; it is true of all mankind. The lowest tribes, of course, remain longest under the influence of the impressions they first received, because there are no others to act upon them, and they are less able mentally to assimilate what is new. Their powers remain dormant, because new circumstances seldom
occur which are likely to awaken a change of thought. Jane Taylor reproaches us for our weakness in this respect. She says
"Why is opinion, singly as it stands,
So much inherited like house and lands?
Opinion, therefore-such our mental dearth-
Hence the warm Tory-eloquent and big
No shadow of distinction but the name.
Hence Christian bigots, 'neath the Pagan cloud,
Had roar'd for 'great Diana' just as loud;
That this is in the main a true description, few will be found to deny. But the moral of it may not by any means be so generally accepted. Opinions and beliefs generated in this way are the staple of what mankind. everywhere are influenced and governed by. In the majority of cases, men hold by them with an invincible pertinacity, and they curse or compassionate those who, placed in different circumstances, have become possessed of a different mental furniture.
It is too often forgotten that the constitution of a man, the type and scope of his intelligence, and his. capacity to ameliorate and alter the one or the other, are facts of inheritance and organisation, which admit of very little modification by any effort of will. A man
can no more think as he likes than he can breathe as he likes. He must breathe as his organisation and his lungs allow; and he must think as his surroundings and constitution have fitted and qualified him to think,