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CREEDS AND CREED-SUBSCRIPTION. KNOW, Mr. Editor, that you are interested in the important
question of Creed-Subscription, and with your leave I wish to say a few words regarding it chiefly from a point of view very much overlooked. It is generally assumed that the morality of the question is of a simple kind, and that the subscription of a clergyman to be true to the doctrine of the Church which he has entered constitutes an obligation of a similar character to that of a man who has given a plain promise by which he is bound plainly to abide. This is the conventional aspect of the question, and a certain class of minds seem incapable of rising above it, or of understanding the inner and far more complicated nature of the difficulty as it presents itself to another class whom even the most superficial observer must allow have at least a higher capacity of thoughtfulness, if not a plainer sense of veracity.
In the first instance, however, let me clear up one point in favour of the former class as to wbich I do not think there can be any
and this is the more necessary as this point is directly suggested by the case of Mr. Stopford Brooke, whose withdrawal froin the Church of England has been the occasion of bringing to a head once more the discussion of this topic. His case is one of extreme simplicity. Mr. Stopford Brooke avows himself out of harmony, after much painful thinking, with the creeds of the Church of England-especially out of harmony with what he believes to be the central belief of these creeds, the mystery of the Incarnation. The presumption is, although Mr. Stopford Brooke has not definitely said so, that his present state of thought or belief on this subject is the issue of deliberate inquiry undertaken with a view of coming to a final conclusion on a question which can hardly fail to have exercised his mind for many years, probably since he commenced his ministry in the Church of England. We cannot suppose otherwise, or allow ourselves to imagine that the biographer of Frederick Robertson has yielded to the mere temporary force of doubts which must have been often present to his mind. From such doubts at times we cannot well conceive any thoughtful clergyman quite free, or at least any clergyman of the intellectually inquisitive type of either Frederick Robertson or his biographer. Doubt often of a very painful kind clings to live thought in every region of religious inquiry, as a shadow clings to its substance. And it is therefore, we imagine, more than a temporary deepening of the shadow which has caused Mr. Stopford Brooke to strike his ecclesiastical tent, and seek the open of a wider Christian horizon. A long-barboured distrust of the supernatural has issued, on his part, in the rejection of the doctrine of the Incamation, on evidence which he considers conclusive ; and he has therefore
consistently withdrawn from the Church of England which, with the universal Christian Church, asserts this doctrine beyond doubt in its Creeds. There was no alternative open to him in the circumstances. Any clergyman who has come decisively to the conclusion that there is no truth in the Divinity of Jesus as asserted in the Catholic Creeds could have no moral choice but withdrawal from the Church. There can be no argument about duty in such a case. The variance, being conclusively clear to the mind of the clergyman himself, compels him honestly to separation. The morality of such a case seems as plain as possible, and there is no merit in an act absolutely dictated by honesty.
There is another case also in which the morality of action in relation to subscription is equally plain. A man cannot honestly enter a Church whose doctrine he discredits. There can be no excuse for such a step. In short, where the question is one simply between any man's own judgment and conscience, it settles itself without difficulty. No man can honestly profess to believe what he does not believe, or either accept or continue a commission to preach doctrines which he deliberately rejects. All this is so obvious that it seems hardly worth saying.
But anyone who is capable of reflection knows that such cases do not touch the real difficulties which more or less exist in all Churches on the subject of subscription or adhesion to Creeds. Nothing can be more certain than that the mass of clergymen begin their career without
serious hesitation as to the doctrines which they are called upon to believe and preach. Youth is sometimes supposed to be the age of inquiry; but it is really the age of dogmatism. All who have much to do with young men, and especially young clergymen, know this. Students, and not least divinity students, are the most opinionative of creatures. They are always strong and definite in one line or another. It may not be the old orthodox line. On the contrary, it may be some brand-new course of heterodoxy in which they run; but, whatever be their course, they almost never fail to take it with confidence, and to run in it with their mental loins girded. They have few or no hesitations, and this simply because they have little or no experience. They are alive to all sorts of intellectual subtleties, and they will adventure the pathway of challenge against old doctrines with much audacity; but they are little disturbed by doubts in a serious sense, going down to the depths of their hearts, and overwhelming them with perplexity. They are dogmatists of one type or another-young Spurgeons, or young Liddons, or young Broad Churchmen after this or that type. And so they enter upon their several careers, assured that they have found the truth, and that the world will be better for their labours, whatever line they may have chosen.
Nothing, we believe, can be more honest than the adhesion which young clergymen generally give to the doctrines of the Church which they enter. Of course they receive these doctrines rather as
they are current at the time and interpreted by the leaders they respectively follow than as literally stated in the Creeds or Confessions. But they nevertheless receive them without any hesitation, and begin their career with perfect honesty from their own point of view. The suggestion of dishonesty is one which never occurs to them, They are bent on their professional career; the doctrines of their Church, if not free of difficulty, not only present no obstacle, but constitute the main intellectual furniture with which they begin their work. They preach them without distrust. They delight in their argumentative defence. They are all of them, by mere necessity of youth, logicians and apologists rather than thinkers. With most of them Creed-subscription is no real difficulty, however they may wish that its bonds were less stringent than they sometimes are. It is this very innocence of the youthful dogmatist and his
1 willingness to subscribe that have always appeared to me to constitute the main cruelty of some forms of subscription. The innocent are taken unawares, and their minds are set in a dogmatic trap before they know what they are about. It is a frightful responsibility which all Churches more or less incur. But, whatever may be thought of the intelligence of such an adhesion, there can be no question of its honesty. The honesty of an act of this kind is entirely in the intention; and the intention of young clergymen, without any exception, we should fancy, in entering on the office of the ministry, is to preach without reserve the doctrines of their Church as they apprehend them, and to serve it in all things loyally. There cannot be said nowadays to be room for any other intention. The Church is no longer a temptation to mere worldly and intellectual ambition, and there is hardly any profession the motive for entering which can be less open to suspicion. There may or may not be the fervour of Christian zeal, and an apostolical simplicity of aim ; there are lower mingling with higher influences in the breasts of most young men, or old men either ; but nothing can well be more untrue to fact than to suppose that a young clergyman begins his work with a strained conscience. His conscience is generally as whole as his credence is large in those early days. 4. But this cheerful strength of early faith in many cases does not last? This is not to be denied. What is known as the Broad Church element in all churches is more or less the expression of a laxer or less confident faith. Real inquiry—the inquiry which goes down both to the depths of one's own heart, and the heart of Christian problems is not the property of youth, but of ripening years and experience. A clergyman who has kept his mind open to the facts of life, the discoveries of science, the growth and development of ideas in human history, has a constant strain put upon the old beliefs with which he commenced his ministry. It is possible to keep outside of this circle of inquiry, by resolutely shutting the avenues of doubt, and putting away all that is calculated to disturb spiritual confidence. But to a certain class of minds this is impossible. By their very constitution some minds put out tendrils of sympathy in all directions, and especially in those directions where the thought of their time is moving most freely and actively. Such questions as those of miracles, of the historical character and credibility of many books of the Old Testament and of the Gospels, of the relation of the early Jewish to the Pauline form of Christianity and of the grave problems which underlie this relation, of the growth and development of Christian thought culminating in the Creeds of the early Church, and the consequent value of those Creeds as statements of Divine Truth—the class of minds to which I refer are unable to escape the pressure of such questions. In a time like ours they are as waves of encompassing intellectual air bathing contemporary thought to its very roots, and in moments of spiritual depression surging over it with painful intensity and force.
Not only so, but it must be admitted to be the business more or less of every thoughtful clergyman to handle such questions; to come to some clear understanding regarding them ; to ask himself, over and over again, how far the supernatural origin of Christianity commends itself to his rational assent, no less than to his traditionary faith, as the only hypothesis adequate to explain the facts, or how far the statements of the Creeds really represent the truths of revelation. If anything more than another is demanded of a Christian minister, it is the constant study of his Greek Testament, not as a series of texts designed to prove doctrines which had not been formulated when it was written, but as a coherent revelation of Divine data, afterwards set forth in the Creeds. This implies a constant comparison of creeddoctrine with Scripture, and the possibility of discrepancy between the one and the other. It implies, in short, a constant criticism of doctrines once accepted without challenge, because the critical judgment—which is the growth of knowledge and of ripening insight-had not then been born. There are few, indeed, who are able to evade this rationalising process altogether. It is the price of intellectual activity. Nay, it is the price of theological understanding. Those who know nothing of it, and merely accept doctrines because they have been taught them, cannot be said to understand doctrine at all. It does not follow that those who go farthest in this direction turn unfaithfully away from their old beliefs, but these beliefs become changed to them insensibly. They are seen in a different light. They are no longer what they were to those who originally formulated them, or what they seemed in an earlier stage of thought. It is simply impossible, in the atmosphere of the nineteenth century, to see things as they seemed in the seventeenth, or sixteenth, or fourth centuries. Not even the deadest orthodoxy can quite do this. The minds of the class I speak of necessarily see all things, even Divine things, in a very different light as the power of inquiry grows within them, and the vision of knowledge enlarges.
Now what is to be done with clergymen of this class ? They are free, of course, to leave the Church ; there can be no doubt of their duty to leave it, as we have already said, when they have made it clear to themselves that the inheritance of the Church can no longer be honestly accepted by them. What we feel we cannot keep honestly we must abandon. But the clergymen we have supposed not only do not feel conscientiously called upon to leave the Church, but all their study and thought, while bringing them at times much spiritual disquiet and mental unrest, have only served to deepen their interest in the Church and in its doctrines. To them, indeed, the theological questions to which they have devoted themselves are far more vital and far more a source of quickening activity than they are to others, who accept doctrines always because they have once accepted them, and then closed the door of inquiry upon them for ever. The great Christian ideas are not only not rejected by them, but have entered into the substance both of their intellectual and practical life. They retain the inner meaning of all Divine truths the more heartily, because they no longer confound them with their traditionary expression, but see everywhere the living current moving behind the scholastic embankment. The late Mr. Maurice and Canon Kingsley, and two men greater still-of a higher theological type-Dean Milman and Bishop Thirlwall, were examples of such clergymen—to speak only of past names. Were these men less Christian, nay, less Anglican, because of their intellectual, or even their doctrinal, restlessness? men of this class, who remain in the Church of England, less conscientious than those who leave it? We cannot think so; and no one has a right to say that they are so. They may have chosen the higher part in remaining where they are. It is impossible to doubt, from their own point of view, that they have acted with equal conscientiousness. The Church is to them far more than the Thirty-nine Articles or the Athanasian Creed ; and in leaving it—as the home of their lifelong spiritual culture—as the Church of the Fathers whom they revere all the more that they do not receive their dicta without criticism - they would do far more violence to their conscience than they do by remaining. Besides, what would become of the Church if
, such men were to leave it whenever their researches bring some measure of doubt to them on this or that point of doctrine, or of traditionary history? Intellectual life would die down within it; all that makes the Church more than an evangelical Institute-and it was more than this even in the time of St. Paul—would disappear. It would cease to be a school of thought, or to hold its own in the intellectual world at all. It would in fact become, what it is now sometimes called, a mere sect, without either spiritual or intellectual dignity. This is the inevitable tendency of all Creed-stringency, as we see before our eyes in the mental no less than the spiritual compression which all sects undergo, tightening their Creed-strings till they strangle all freedom of development.
It is plain, therefore, that the question of subscription is not a plain question. It is not so even on the narrowest interpretation of the terms of subscription. All that the entrant to the Church of