XII. Milman's View of Christianity

[British Critic, Jan. 1841]

{186} THE "History of Christianity" which Mr. Milman has lately given to the world, is a work of very considerable ability, and bears upon it tokens of much thought and varied research. No one could doubt that such would be the character of any publication of the author's, and the expectation raised by his name has been increased by the length of time during which reports have been current of his having a work on Christianity in hand. It consists of three ample volumes, but even these are but an instalment of the whole design to which he has devoted himself. "If he should be blessed with life and leisure," says his Preface, "the author cannot but look forward to the continuation of this history with increasing interest, as it approaches the period of the re-creation of European society under the influence of Christianity."—P. 10. It is notorious that the English Church is destitute of an Ecclesiastical History; Gibbon is almost our sole authority for subjects as near the heart of a Christian as any can well be. We do not indeed mean to say that Mr. Milman will supply this want; rather we conceive him to hold that it is a want which ought not to be supplied. Our impression at least is,—we do not mean to state it as more than an impression,—that he considers Church histories, {187} as such, to be nothing better than "tolerabiles ineptiæ." His present volumes are rather the substitute than the supply of this desideratum in our ecclesiastical literature, and are meant to supersede the history of the Church by the history of Christianity. But we acknowledge even this as a boon; without agreeing to Mr. Milman's historical views or doctrinal opinions, as what we shall presently say will show, we consider it to be impossible even for a Gibbon to write an uninstructive history of the Evangelical Dispensation; and much less can Mr. Milman, who is not a Gibbon, but a clergyman, fail to be useful to those who are in search of facts, and have better principles than his own to read them by. We frankly confess that he has not pleased us; nor, on the other hand, will he please any clear-headed, long-sighted adherents of that philosophy which he has allowed himself just to taste,—except, indeed, as far as, in the present state of things they will thankfully accept whatever is conceded to them, and welcome it as a precedent and pattern for fresh innovations.


However, we shall be very unjust to Mr. Milman, unless we try carefully to place ourselves in the position which he has chosen for contemplating and delineating the Christian religion. Unless we succeed in this, we shall cruelly misunderstand him, as if he held certain opinions, when he does but state the premisses which practically involve them. It is obvious that the whole system of Revelation may be viewed in various, nay antagonist aspects. He who regards our Lord as man, does not in consequence deny that He is more than man; and they who with Mr. Milman love to regard the whole Christian history as much as possible {188} as a thing of earth, may be wise or unwise, reverent or irreverent, in so doing, may be attempting what is practicable or impracticable, may eventually be led on to commit themselves to positive errors about it, and may accordingly be wantonly trifling with serious matters, but cannot without unfairness be charged with an ipso facto denial of its heavenly character. The Christian history is "an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace:" whether the sign can be satisfactorily treated separate from the thing signified is another matter; but it seems to be Mr. Milman's intention so to treat it, and he must be judged by that intention, not by any other which we choose to impute to him. Christianity has an external aspect and an internal; it is human without, divine within. To attempt to touch the human element without handling also the divine, we may fairly deem unreal, extravagant, and sophistical; we may feel the two to be one integral whole, differing merely in aspect, not in fact: we may consider that a writer has not mastered his own idea who resolves to take liberties with the body, and yet not insult the animating soul. So we do; but all this is another matter; such a person does not mean any harm; nor does the writer who determines, as far as he can, to view the Christian as a secular fact, to the exclusion of all theological truth. He gives a representation of it, such as it would appear to a man of the world. This, at least, is our primâ facie view of Mr. Milman's book, and to draw it out shall be our first step,—in doing which we shall have an opportunity, without unkindness to the author, of convicting him of what seems to us a want of clearness and definiteness of conception in his original design.

And first he shall state his object for himself, as it is set before us in his Preface: {189}

"As the Jewish annals might be considered in relation to the general history of man, to the rank which the nation bore among the various families of the human race, and the influence which it exercised on the civilization of mankind: so Christianity may be viewed either in a strictly religious, or rather in a temporal, social, and political light. In the former case, the writer will dwell almost exclusively on the religious doctrines, and will bear continual reference to the new relation established between man and the Supreme Being: the predominant character will be that of the theologian. In the latter, although he may not altogether decline the examination of the religious doctrines, their development, and their variations, his leading object will be to trace the effect of Christianity on the individual and social happiness of man, its influence on the polity, the laws and institutions, the opinions, the manners, even on the arts and the literature of the Christian world: he will write rather as an historian than as a religious instructor. Though, in fact, a candid and dispassionate survey of the connexion of Christianity with the temporal happiness, and with the intellectual and social advancement of mankind, even to the religious inquirer, cannot but be of high importance and interest; while with the general mass, at least of the reading and intellectual part of the community, nothing tends so powerfully to the strengthening or weakening of religious impression and sentiment, nothing acts so extensively, even though perhaps indirectly, on the formation of religious opinions, and on the speculative or practical belief or rejection of Christianity, as the notions we entertain of its influence on the history of man, and its relation to human happiness and social improvement."—Pp. v. vi.

In another place he tells us that the course of his history

"will endeavour to trace all the modifications of Christianity, by which it accommodated itself to the spirit of successive ages; and by this apparently almost skilful, but in fact necessary, condescension to the predominant state of moral culture, of which itself formed a constituent element, maintained its uninterrupted dominion. It is the author's object, the difficulty of which he himself fully appreciates, to portray the genius of the Christianity of each successive age, in connexion with that of the age itself; entirely to discard all polemic views; to mark the origin and progress of all {190} the subordinate diversities of belief; their origin in the circumstances of the place and time at which they appeared; their progress from their adaptation to the prevailing state of opinion or sentiment: rather than to confute error or to establish truth; in short, to exhibit the reciprocal influence of civilization on Christianity, of Christianity on civilization. To the accomplishment of such a scheme he is well aware that besides the usual high qualifications of a faithful historian, is requisite, in an especial manner, the union of true philosophy with perfect charity, if indeed they are not one and the same. This calm, impartial, and dispassionate tone he will constantly endeavour, he dares scarcely hope, with such warnings on every side of involuntary prejudice and unconscious prepossession, uniformly to maintain. In the honesty of his purpose he will seek his excuse for all imperfection or deficiency in the execution of his scheme."—P. 47.

These extracts, setting forth the intellectual idea under which the author writes, contain matter more than sufficient for the limits within which we wish our remarks upon him to be confined.


Now let us see how much we are disposed to grant to Mr. Milman, and where we part company with him: in doing which we must be allowed to begin somewhat ab ovo, and for a while to exchange a critical for a didactic tone. We maintain then, as we have already said, that Christianity, nor Christianity only, but all God's dealings with His creatures, have two aspects, one external, one internal. What one of the earliest Fathers says of its highest ordinance, is true of it altogether, and of all other divine dispensations: they are twofold, "having one part heavenly, and one part earthly." This is the law of Providence here below; it works beneath a veil, and what is visible in its course does but shadow out at most, and sometimes obscures and disguises what is invisible. The world in which we are placed has its own {191} system of laws and principles, which, as far as our knowledge of it goes, is, when once set in motion, sufficient to account for itself,—as complete and independent as if there was nothing beyond it. Ordinarily speaking, nothing happens, nothing goes on in the world, but may be satisfactorily traced to some other event or fact in it, or has a sufficient result in other events or facts in it, without the necessity of our following it into a higher system of things in order to explain its existence, or to give it a meaning. We will not stop to dwell on exceptions to this general statement, or on the narrowness of our knowledge of things: but what is every day said and acted on proves that this is at least the impression made upon most minds by the course of things in which we find ourselves. The sun rises and sets on a law; the tides ebb and flow upon a law; the earth is covered with verdure or buried in the ocean, it grows old and it grows young again, by the operation of fixed laws. Life, whether vegetable or animal, is subjected to a similar external and general rule. Men grow to maturity, then decay, and die. Moreover, they form into society, and society has its principles. Nations move forward by laws which act as a kind of destiny over them, and which are as vigorous now as a thousand years ago. And these laws of the social and political world run into the physical, making all that is seen one and one only system; a horse stumbles, and an oppressed people is rid of their tyrant; a volcano changes populous cities into a dull lake; a gorge has of old time opened, and the river rolls on, bearing on its bosom the destined site of some great mart, which else had never been. We cannot set limits either to the extent or to the minuteness of this wonderful web of causes and effects, in which all we see is involved. It reaches to {192} the skies; it penetrates into our very thoughts, habits, and will.

Such is confessedly the world in which our Almighty Creator has placed us. If then He is still actively present with His own work, present with nations and with individuals, He must be acting by means of its ordinary system, or by quickening, or as it were, stimulating its powers, or by superseding or interrupting it; in other words, by means of what is called nature, or by miracle; and whereas strictly miraculous interference must be, from the nature of the case, rare, it stands to reason that, unless He has simply retired, and has left the world ordinarily to itself,—content with having originally imposed on it certain general laws, which will for the most part work out the ends which He contemplates,—He is acting through, with, and beneath those physical, social, and moral laws, of which our experience informs us. Now it has ever been a firm article of Christian faith, that His Providence is in fact not general merely, but is, on the contrary, thus particular and personal; and that, as there is a particular Providence, so of necessity that Providence is secretly concurring and co-operating with that system which meets the eye, and which is commonly recognized among men as existing. It is not too much to say that this is the one great rule on which the Divine Dispensations with mankind have been and are conducted, that the visible world is the instrument, yet the veil, of the world invisible,—the veil, yet still partially the symbol and index: so that all that exists or happens visibly, conceals and yet suggests, and above all subserves, a system of persons, facts, and events beyond itself.

Thus the course of things has a natural termination as well as a natural origin: it tends towards final causes {193} while it springs from physical; it is ever issuing from things which we see round about us; it is ever passing on into what is matter of faith, not of sight. What is called and seems to be cause and effect, is rather an order of sequence, and does not preclude, nay, perhaps implies, the presence of unseen spiritual agency as its real author. This is the animating principle both of the Church's ritual and of Scripture interpretation; in the latter it is the basis of the theory of the double sense; in the former it makes ceremonies and observances to be signs, seals, means, and pledges of supernatural grace. It is the mystical principle in the one, it is the sacramental in the other. All that is seen,—the world, the Bible, the Church, the civil polity, and man himself,—are types, and, in their degree and place, representatives and organs of an unseen world, truer and higher than themselves. The only difference between them is, that some things bear their supernatural character upon their surface, are historically creations of the supernatural system, or are perceptibly instrumental, or obviously symbolical: while others rather seem to be complete in themselves, or run counter to the unseen system which they really subserve, and thereby make demands upon our faith.

This may be illustrated from the creation of man. The Creator "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." He first formed a material tabernacle, and then endued it with an unseen life. Now some philosophers, somewhat after the manner of the ancient Gnostics whom Mr. Milman mentions (vol. ii., p. 113), have speculated on the probability of man's being originally of some brute nature, some vast misshapen lizard of the primeval period, which at length {194} by the force of nature, from whatever secret causes, was exalted into a rational being, and gradually shaped its proportions and refined its properties by the influence of the rational principle which got possession of it. Such a theory is of course irreconcilable with the letter of the sacred text, to say no more; but it bears an analogy, and at least supplies an illustration, to many facts and events which take place in this world. When Providence would make a Revelation, He does not begin anew, but uses the existing system; He does not visibly send an Angel, but He commissions or inspires one of our own fellows. When He would bless us, He makes a man His priest. When He would consecrate or quicken us, He takes the elements of this world as the means of real but unseen spiritual influences. When He would set up a divine polity, He takes a polity which already is, or one in course of forming. Nor does He interfere with its natural growth, development, or dependence on things visible. He does not shut it up in a desert, and there supply it with institutions unlike those which might naturally come to it from the contact and intercourse of the external world. He does but modify, quicken, or direct the powers of nature or the laws of society. Or if He works miracles, still it is without superseding the ordinary course of things. He multiplies the flocks or the descendants of Jacob, or in due season He may work signal or public miracles for their deliverance from Egypt; but still the operation of ordinary causes, the influence of political arrangements, and what is called the march of events, are seen in such providences as truly, and can be pointed out as convincingly, as if an Angel and a pillar of a cloud were not with them.

Thus the great characteristic of Revelation is addition, {195} substitution. Things look the same as before, though not an invisible power has taken hold upon them. This power does not unclothe the creature, but clothes it. Men dream everywhere: it gives visions. Men journey everywhere: it sends "the Angels of God to meet them." Men may elsewhere be hospitable to their brethren: now they entertain Angels. Men carry on a work; but it is a blessing from some ancestor that is breathing on and through it unseen. A nation migrates and seizes on a country; but all along its proceedings are hallowed by prophecy, and promise, and providence beforehand, and used for religious ends afterwards. Israel was as much a political power, as man is an animal. The rites and ceremonies enjoined upon the people might be found elsewhere, but were not less divine notwithstanding. Circumcision was also practised in Egypt, frequent ablutions may be the custom of the East, the veil of Moses may have been the symbol of other rulers (if so be) before him,—though the fact has to be proved; a Holy of Holies, an altar, a sacrifice, a sacerdotal caste, in these points the Mosaic law resembled, yet as to these it differed from, the nations round about. The Israelitish polity had a beginning, a middle, and an end, like other things of time and place; its captivities were the natural consequences, its monarchy was the natural expedient, of a state of political weakness. Its territory was a battle-ground, and its power was the alternate ally, of the rival empires of Egypt and Assyria. Heathen travellers may have surveyed the Holy Land, and have thought it but a narrow slip of Syria. So it was; what then? till the comparative anatomist can be said by his science to disprove the rationality and responsibility of man, the politician or geographer of this world does nothing, by dissertations {196} in his own particular line of thought, towards quenching the secret light of Israel, or dispossessing its angelic guardians of the height of Sion or of the sepulchres of the prophets. Its history is twofold, worldly to the world, and heavenly to the heirs of heaven.

What is true of Judaism is true of Christianity. The kingdom of Christ, though not of this world, yet is in the world, and has a visible, material, social shape. It consists of men, and it has developed according to the laws under which combinations of men develop. It has an external aspect similar to all other kingdoms. We may generalize and include it as one among the various kinds of polity, as one among the empires, which have been upon the earth. It is called the fifth kingdom; and as being numbered with the previous four which were earthly, it is thereby, in fact, compared with them. We may write its history, and make it look as like those which were before or contemporary with it, as a man is like a monkey. Now we come at length to Mr. Milman: this is what he has been doing. He has been viewing the history of the Church on the side of the world. Its rise from nothing, the gradual aggrandizement of its bishops, the consolidation of its polity and government, its relation to powers of the earth, its intercourse with foreign philosophies and religions, its conflict with external and internal enemies, the mutual action for good or for evil which has been carried on between it and foreign systems, political and intellectual, its large extension, its growth and resolution into a monarchy, its temporal greatness, its gradual divisions and decay, and the natural causes which operated throughout,—these are the subjects in which he delights, to which he has dedicated himself,—that is, as far as they can be detached from their directly religious bearing; and unless readers {197} understand this, they will think that what is but a contemplation of what is outside, is intended by him for a denial of what is inside. Whether such denial has in any measure resulted, even in Mr. Milman's own mind, from such contemplation, is a farther question, afterwards to be considered; but, anyhow, it is to be feared that too many persons will unfairly run away from his book with the notion that to ignore the Almighty in ecclesiastical history is really to deny Him.


Some specimens of Mr. Milman's peculiarity will serve further to explain what we mean. The following, for instance, are some of his observations on the resemblance between the Magianism of the East and Judaism after its return from captivity there:

"The earliest books of the Old Testament fully recognize the ministration of Angels, but in Babylonia this simpler creed grew up into a regular hierarchy, in which the degrees of rank and subordination were arranged with almost heraldic precision. The seven great archangels of Jewish tradition correspond with the Amschaspands of the Zendavesta; and in strict mutual analogy, both systems arrayed against each other a separate host of spiritual beings with distinct powers and functions. Each nation, each individual had in one case his Ferver, in the other his guardian angel, and was exposed to the hostile Dev or Dæmon ... The great impersonated Principle of Evil appears to have assumed much of the antagonist power of darkness. The name itself of Satan, which in the older poetical book of Job is assigned to a spirit of different attributes, one of the celestial ministers who assemble before the throne of the Almighty, ... became appropriated to the prince of the malignant spirits,—the head and representative of the spiritual world, which ruled over physical as well as moral evil."—Pp. 70-72.

Our object in quoting this passage is neither to deny the similarity between the two theologies, nor to inquire {198} how this came to pass, but to give an instance of Mr. Milman's peculiar manner, and the facility with which he may be taken, not unnaturally, but still over-hastily, to be saying what he does not say, that the Jewish theology is worth no more than the Magian. He as little says it as, in asserting that man is an animal, he would be denying that he is rational.

And in like manner when he calls the Magnificat "Jewish," he need not mean more than to be an "historian rather than a religious instructor;" we take him to be merely stating what he considers a fact, whatever comes of it, whatever theory is to be built upon it, what explanation is to be given of it, viz., that the language which the Blessed Mary uses, is such as the Scribes and Pharisees, Judas the Zealot, or Caiaphas the High Priest might use also; in spite of this, he may consider the spirit and meaning in each party to be quite different. "It is curious," he says, "to observe how completely and exclusively consistent every expression appears with the state of belief at that period; all is purely Jewish, and accordant with the prevalent expectation of the National Messiah."—Vol. i., p. 102.

Again, when he says that the Baptist "partook of the ascetic character of the more solitary of the Essenes, all of whom retired from the tumult and licence of the city," vol. i., p. 141, no one can reasonably suppose that he means to be more than an historical relator, keeping clear of religious principles and doctrinal theories, and stating facts, external facts.

In like manner he parallels Christian asceticism to Oriental; whatever theory he does or may proceed to erect upon this fact of a correspondence between the two, still, as far as the profession of his Preface goes, he is not bound to consider it at all in a "strictly religious" {199} but "rather in a temporal, social, and political light." A supernatural cause for it may exist in Christianity, a divine authority; but this does not conflict with the fact that the Christian athlete may externally resemble the heathen; unless indeed, which no one will maintain, the parallel fact of the heathen or Jewish ceremonial ablutions be an argument against the divine appointment of evangelical baptism. He says,—

"On the cold table-lands of Thibet, in the forests of India, among the busy population of China, on the burning shores of Siam, in Egypt and in Palestine, in Christianised Europe, in Mahommetanised Asia, the worshipper of the Lama, the Faquir, the Bonze, the Talapoin, the Essene, the therapeutist, the monk, and the dervish, have withdrawn from the society of man, in order to abstract the pure mind from the dominion of foul and corrupting matter. Under each system, the perfection of human nature was estrangement from the influence of the senses, those senses which were enslaved to the material elements of the world; an approximation to the essence of the Deity, by a total secession from the affairs, the interests, the passions, the thoughts, the common being and nature of man. The practical operation of this elementary principle of Eastern religion has deeply influenced the whole history of man. But it had made no progress in Europe till after the introduction of Christianity."—Vol. ii., pp. 86, 87.

Again he says, speaking of the time of Christ's coming,

"Man, as history and experience teach, is essentially a religious being; there are certain faculties and modes of thinking and feeling apparently inseparable from his mental organization, which lead him irresistibly to seek some communication with another and a higher world. But at the present juncture the ancient religions were effete; they belonged to a totally different state of civilization; though they retained the strong hold of habit and interest on different classes of society, yet the general mind was advanced beyond them; they could not supply the religious necessities of the age. Thus, the world, peaceably united under one temporal monarchy {200} might be compared to a vast body without a soul: the throne of the human mind appeared vacant; among the rival competitors for its dominion, none advanced more than claims local, or limited to a certain class."—Vol. i., p. 8.

These instances will be sufficient of Mr. Milman's manner. We proceed next to observe that, as if in order that there may be no mistake, he often gives his readers intimation, more or less express, of the external view he is taking of his subject; as a few out of the many instances, which might be quoted in point, will show.

Thus he says of the Jews, that "to the loose manner in which religious belief hung on the greater part of the subjects of the Roman empire, their recluse and uncompromising attachment to the faith of their ancestors offered the most singular contrast."—Vol. i., p. 345; and that "the Jews stood alone, according to the language and opinion of the Roman world, as a nation of religious fanatics".—Ibid. Again, "so long as" the Christians "made no visible impression upon society, their unsocial and self-secluding disposition would be treated with contempt and pity rather than with animosity."—Vol. ii., p. 144. Words like these bear on their very face the writer's intention merely to describe how Christians appeared to the heathen.

Still more expressly he speaks of "One who appeared to the mass of mankind in His own age as a peasant of Palestine," vol. i., p. 35: he says that the establishment of the Mosaic Law was "accompanied, according to the universal belief, with the most terrific demonstrations of Almighty power," ibid., p. 168; and he makes the solemn announcement, "in the stable of the inn or caravansera was born the CHILD ... who has been for centuries considered the object of adoration as the divine Mediator {201} between God and man by the most civilized and enlightened nations of the earth."—Ibid., p. 108.

Speaking of the Greeks who came to Christ at the feast, he says, "to their surprise ... the somewhat ambiguous language of Jesus dwells at first on His approaching fate, etc."—P. 306. Speaking of our Lord's injunction to secrecy on occasion of His miraculous cures, he says, that this was so frequent "that one evangelist considers that the cautious and unresisting demeanour of Jesus, thus avoiding all unnecessary offence or irritation, exemplified that characteristic of the Messiah so beautifully described by Isaiah, 'He shall neither strive, etc.'"—P. 224. That one evangelist considered a prophecy exemplified, is quite consistent, of course, with a belief that at the same time inspiration pronounced it to be fulfilled. Mr. Milman need not mean more than to state an external fact.

In the same spirit he calls our Saviour's miracles "preternatural," not "supernatural works."—Vid. vol. i., pp. 283, 389. The latter word would assume the point in debate between the world and the Church, their divinity, whereas he is taking up an impartial or philosophical position between the two. He speaks of Christ as a man "who as far as he [Pilate] could discover, was a harmless, peaceful, and benevolent enthusiast."—P. 346. And, in describing the attempt of the Nazarenes to cast our Lord down the brow of their hill, he cautiously says, in the same historical tone, "they found that the intended victim of their wrath had disappeared."—Ibid., p. 188. And in another passage where he is led to compare Budhism with Christianity, he expressly "deprecates misconstruction." "The characteristic of the Budhist religion," he says, "which in one respect may be considered (I deprecate misconstruction) the Christianity of {202} the remoter East, seems an union of political with religious reformation." And then he even takes the trouble to mention where Christianity, in his opinion, parts company with Budhism, as well as what it shares with it. "Its end," he observes, "is to substitute purer morality for the wild and multifarious idolatry into which Brahminism had degenerated, and to break down the distinction of castes. But Budhism appears to be essentially monastic; and how different the superstitious regard for life in the Budhist from the enlightened humanity of Christianity!"—P. 98. Thus Christianity certainly is superior to Budhism.


We have said nothing to imply that we approve of the judgment which has determined Mr. Milman to this mode of writing. Still less can we speak well of it, considering it has led him to that apparent suppression of doctrinal truth which we are now to notice. For the fact is undeniable, little as Mr. Milman may be aware of it, that this external contemplation of Christianity necessarily leads a man to write as a Socinian or Unitarian would write, whether he will or not. Mr. Milman has not been able to avoid this dreadful disadvantage, and thus, however heartily he may hate the opinions of such men himself, he has unintentionally both given scandal to his brethren and cause of triumph to the enemy. A very few words will account for this. The great doctrines which the Socinian denies are our Lord's divinity and atonement; now these are not external facts;—what he confesses are His humanity and crucifixion; these are external facts. Mr. Milman then is bound by his theory to dwell on the latter, to slur over the former. Nay, further still, the forgiveness of sins is {203} not an external fact; but moral improvement is; consequently he will make the message of the Gospel to relate mainly to moral improvement, not to forgiveness of sins. Again, those who maintain most earnestly the divinity of Christ as a matter of doctrine, must yet admit that what is "manifested" in Him, is not, cannot be, more than a certain attribute or attributes of the divinity, as, for instance, especially love. Accordingly, Mr. Milman, speaking mainly of what is externally seen, will be led to speak almost in a Sabellian fashion, as if denying, because not stating, the specific indwelling which Scripture records, and the Church teaches. Hence the general effect of Mr. Milman's work, we cannot deny, though we wish to give as little offence as possible, is heretical.

On these considerations, for instance, we account for the following passages:—he says that the "structure of the new faith" is "a temple to which all nations in the highest degree of civilization may bring their offerings of pure hearts, virtuous dispositions, universal charity," and that "our natural emotion on beholding it," is "the recognition of the Divine goodness in the promulgation of this beneficent code of religion, and adoration of that Being in whom that Divine goodness is thus embodied and made comprehensible to the faculties of man. In the language of the Apostle, God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself."—Vol. i., p. 51.

We all know it to be an essential and most practical doctrine that the Person of Christ is Divine, and that into His Divine Personality He has taken human nature; or, in other words, the Agent, Speaker, Sufferer, Sacrifice, Intercessor, Judge, is God, though God in our flesh; not man with a presence of Divinity. The latter doctrine is Sabellianism, Nestorianism, and Socinianism. {204}

Yet it is adopted to the letter by Mr. Milman, who, admitting nothing but what is of this world when he contemplates Christ's person, is obliged to see in it by his very theory nothing more than a man. Thus, he says, that "Jesus declared" "that the Son of God ... had descended from heaven," and was "present in His Person."—Vol. i. p. 173.

Again, what could be more lax and unsatisfactory than such discrimination as the following between the Gospel and the religions of the East, but for the salvo that Mr. Milman's very object and only object is to show how like Christianity is to heathenism?

"The incarnation of the Deity, or the union of some part of the Divine Essence with a material or human body, is by no means an uncommon religious notion, more particularly in the East. Yet in the doctrine as subsequently developed by Christianity, there seems the same important difference which characterizes the whole system of the ancient and modern religions. It is in the former a mythological impersonation of the power, in Christ it is the goodness of the Deity, which associating itself with a human form assumes the character of a representative of the human race; in whose person is exhibited a pure model of human perfection, and whose triumph over evil is by the slow and gradual progress of enlightening the mind and softening and purifying the heart."—Vol. i., p. 97.

The concluding words of this extract should be well observed; the victory of the Cross and the free pardon of sin are not mentioned among Christ's "triumphs." The author adds presently that the sole design of the "Christian scheme is to work a moral change, to establish a new relation between man and the Almighty creator, and to bring to light the great secret of the immortality of man." It is said that the exception proves the rule; now it so happens that the vague words put into italics are the nearest approach which we have observed in Mr. Milman's volumes to the doctrine of forgiveness of sins, {205} let alone that of the atonement. We are far from pronouncing for certain that there is nothing more definite to be found in them, but we are sure that we are faithful to the general tone of his work in thus speaking.

Again, he speaks of the more opulent Romans being "tempted to make themselves acquainted with a religion, the moral influence of which was so manifestly favourable to the happiness of mankind, and which offered so noble a solution of the great problem of human philosophy, the immortality of the soul."—Vol. ii., p. 156. Surely this account of the great problem awkwardly fits in with the real and deep cry of human nature embodied in the jailor's words, "What shall I do to be saved?"

Again, he speaks of Christ as one "whose moral doctrines, if adopted throughout the world, would destroy more than half the misery, by destroying all the vice and mutual hostility of men," vol. i., p. 108; where the last phrase is perhaps intended as an explanation of Christ "having made peace."

Elsewhere he dwells upon the beauty of the picture presented to us in Christ's removing bodily afflictions; and on the other hand, "gently instilling into the minds of the people those pure, and humane, and gentle principles of moral goodness to which the wisdom of ages has been able to add nothing;" and God's condescending "to show this image and reflection of His own inconceivable nature for the benefit of" men, "to restore them to, and prepare them for, a higher and eternal state of existence."—Pp. 197, 198. He is, it seems, precluded by his position from expressing definitely the idea conveyed in the proclamation, "Repent ye," and in the announcement, "Thy sins be forgiven thee."

In another place he expressly sets himself to interpret the last-mentioned words. When the woman that was {206} a sinner washed our Saviour's feet with her tears, He said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee;" Mr. Milman paraphrases, "the reply of Jesus intimates that His religion was intended to reform and purify the worst."—P. 233. That is, Christ's reply hints less than it expresses.

Again, speaking of what he considers the growing illumination of society, he says:—

"Even if (though I conceive it impossible) the imagination should entirely wither from the human soul, and a severer faith enter into an exclusive alliance with pure reason, Christianity would still have its moral perfection, its rational promise of immortality, its approximation to the one pure, spiritual, incomprehensible Deity, to satisfy that reason, and to infuse those sentiments of dependence, of gratitude, of love to God, without which human society must fall to ruin, and the human mind, in humiliating desperation, suspend all its noble activity, and care not to put forth its sublime and eternal energies."—Vol. i., p. 132.

Again, he speaks of baptism as being a mark of the convert's "initiation into the new faith," while "a secret internal transmutation was to take place by divine agency in his heart, which was to communicate a new principle of moral life."—Vol. i., p. 172. Still no mention of the forgiveness of sins.

Again, he tells us that the object of the Temptation was "to withdraw" Christ "from the purely religious end of His being upon earth, to transform Him from the author of a moral revolution to be slowly wrought by the introduction of new principles of virtue, and new rules for individual and social happiness ... who was to offer to man the gift of eternal life, and elevate his nature to a previous fitness for that exalted destiny."—Vol. i., p. 156.


Now it is very far from our intention indeed to say {207} that the solemn topics of atonement, and forgiveness, and of our Lord's divine nature, are to be introduced upon all occasions, and especially in an historical work such as Mr. Milman's. He is, as he truly says, "an historian rather than a religious instructor." But still, when he is engaged in specifying expressly what the revealed doctrine consists in, and what the object of Christ's coming was, we consider it to be a very unhappy view of historical composition, which precludes him from mentioning what all members of the Church hold to be fundamental in that doctrine, and primary in that object.

Yet, singular to say, Mr. Milman makes this mode of writing a subject of especial self-congratulation; and this is a phenomenon which deserves dwelling on. It is impossible then to mistake the satisfaction which he feels in adopting the external view of Christianity, and the sort of contempt, we are sorry to say it, in which he holds theological science; yet we really do not see what the merit is, which he seems to claim for his historical method. Not that we cannot conceive many reasons for contemplating sacred things as they show themselves externally; but there is a broad intelligible difference between throwing one's mind into the feelings of a certain state of society, or into the views of certain persons, for an occasion or purpose, and habitually taking their feelings or views as one's own, and making what is not the true position for surveying them the centre of our own thoughts about them. Men may take this external view of sacred things by way of putting themselves into the place of unbelievers, and entering into their difficulties, and so assisting them in finding the truth. Such is the case with Paley and other writers on External Evidence. Again, there is certainly a silent and soothing {208} pleasure in viewing great things in the littleness and feebleness in which they appear to the world, from the secret feeling of their real power and majesty, and an exulting anticipation of their ultimate and just triumph. Such is the pleasure excited by the recognitions or discoveries of Greek tragedy, which, as being generally foreseen from the beginning, feed the imagination. Moreover, a mean exterior cast over what we admire and revere acts as a veil of mystery heightening our feeling of its greatness. And again, the very keenness and fulness of our feelings may often act, in leading us in very despair or from deep awe to use simple and homely words concerning what is more constraining with us, and more affecting, than anything else in the world. None of these considerations, however, will serve to explain Mr. Milman's course of proceeding. Neither as a conscientious exercise of mind, nor except very partially in the way of evidence, nor from any poetical pleasure, nor to gratify the love of mystery, nor in admiration, nor from a principle of reserve, does he display the earthly side of the Gospel; but, strange to say, from a notion of its being philosophical to do so. It is quite undeniable, and quite as astonishing, that he thinks there is something high and admirable in the state of mind which can thus look down upon a Divine Dispensation. He imagines that it argues a large, liberal, enlightened understanding, to be able to generalize religions, and, without denying the divinity of Christianity, to resolve it into its family likeness to all others. He thinks it a sign of an acute and practised intellect to pare down its supernatural facts as closely as possible, and to leave its principal miracles, the multiplying bread, the raising Lazarus, or the Resurrection, standing alone like the pillars of Tadmor in the wilderness. {209} He evidently considers that it is an advance in knowledge to disguise Scripture facts and persons under secular names. He thinks that it is so much gain if he can call Abraham an Emir or a Sheik; that it is a victory to be able to connect Church doctrine with Magianism, or Platonism, or Judaism, or Essenism, or Orientalism; and to liken holy Basil or Bernard to Faquir, Bonze, Talapoin, and Dervish. This is what meets us on the very surface of his book, and it is, we must speak frankly, no promising trait. What, for instance, should we say to a comparative anatomist, who not only exercised his science in his own line and for its own ends, but should profess to write an account of man, and then should talk much of man's animality and materiality, of his relation to the beasts of the field, of the processes of nutrition, digestion, disease, and dissolution, and should boast of his having steered clear of all mention of the soul, should waive the question of the moral sense, should deprecate the inquiry into a future life, leave the debate upon responsibility to the schools, and all this with the air of one who was no common man, but was breathing the pure, elevated, and serene atmosphere of philosophy? Yet such as this in the eyes of all serious men will be an author who speaks of any inquiry into the doctrines of Christianity as a sort of condescension, and looks upon its outward and secular aspect as its glory. We cannot exempt Mr. Milman from the force of this comparison.

For instance, he speaks in the first extract above given, as not being able "altogether" to "decline the examination of the religious doctrines, their development, and their variations," though "his leading object" is to trace the effect of Christianity on the individual and social happiness of man, its influence on the polity, laws, and {210} institutions, the opinions, the manners ... the arts and literature of the Christian world." He implies that his survey is to be "candid and dispassionate," and says that though mainly relating to what is temporal, intellectual, and social, it will be of high importance and interest "even to the religious inquirer," and will be of a nature to act upon "the general mass at least of the reading and intelligent part of the community," in forming their religious opinions, and in their "speculative or practical belief" of Christianity. He goes on to congratulate himself that, as regards the sceptical and infidel writers of Germany, for so we understand him, he "shall not be accused of that narrow jealousy, and, in his opinion, unworthy and timid suspicion, with which the writers of that country are proscribed by many."—P. viii. He compliments them on "their profound research and philosophical tone of thought." He celebrates St. Thomas the Apostle as "remarkable for his coolness and reflecting temper of mind."—P. 226. As to the points at present in controversy in our Church, including, let it be observed, baptismal regeneration and other doctrines not less important, "though of course," he says, "I cannot be, yet I have written as if, in total ignorance of the existence of such discussions."—P. ix. This ought to mean, we suppose,—I have my definite opinion, but I will not controvert; but it sounds very like,—I hold a great and a calm view, and all others are partizans and zealots. He continues: "I have delivered without fear and without partiality what I have conscientiously believed to be the truth. I write for the general readers rather than for the members of my own profession;"—and now let us attend to the reason of this great resolve: "as I cannot understand why such subjects of universal interest should be secluded, as the peculiar objects of {211} study to one class or order alone." In other words,—My own profession cannot be brought to take an external view of Christianity; but I write for the world, which does.

He further tells us that—

"As Christian History, surveyed in a wise and candid spirit, cannot but be a useful school for the promotion of Christian faith; so no study can tend more directly to, or more imperatively enforce on all unprejudiced and dispassionate minds, mutual forbearance, enlightened toleration, and the greatest even of Christian virtues, Christian Charity."—P. xi.

In the second of the extracts with which we commenced, he repeats his hope of attaining a "calm, impartial, and dispassionate tone;" that is, the calmness and dispassionateness, we suppose, which can bring a man comfortably through an assimilation of the later Jewish prophets to Zoroaster, and Christianity to Buddhism. Moreover, he tells us, that "his disposition inclines" to labour even more, "to show the good as well as the evil of each phasis of Christianity."—Vol. i. p. 49.

We have further light what Mr. Milman means by "calmness and dispassionateness" by the tone in which he speaks of any show of zealous feeling in others. He contrasts it with his own state of mind. For instance, in one place he disavows, though he excuses, the "isolation of the history of Christ in a kind of sacred seclusion," though, he proceeds, it "has no doubt a beneficial effect on the piety of the Christian, which delights in contemplating the Saviour undisturbed and uncontaminated by less holy associations."—Vol. i., p. 52. Now is not this unreal? Mr. Milman surely himself is contemplating, not "the Saviour," but his Saviour; and the question with the Christian is, not what effect it has upon his piety—as if he cherished reverent thoughts of Christ {212} from a mere calculation of the benefit such reverence will do to his own mind—but "How can I, independently of a call of duty, forget, or speak as if I forgot, who and what He is?" Mr. Milman's language certainly implies that calmness and dispassionateness and an absence of prejudice are shown in being able to hear and to repeat, without wincing, as regards our great Benefactor, the profane things which infidels and scorners say of Him. We know he cannot mean this; yet his language implies it, and in consequence we cannot wonder at his exciting a clamour. Presently he speaks of a departure "from the evangelical simplicity in the relation of facts," such as he has adopted, offending "the reverential feelings of the reader;" why not of the writer?

However, we should be unfair unless we added that there are occasions when he can respond personally to the calls of reverence made upon him by the subject on which he is employed. For instance, of the last scenes of our Lord's life, he writes, with imposing effect, "As we approach the appalling close, we tremble lest the colder process of explanation should deaden the solemn and harrowing impression of the scene, or weaken the contrast between the wild and tumultuous uproar of the triumphant enemies and executioners of the Son of Man with the deep and unutterable misery of the few faithful adherents who still followed His footsteps."—Vol. i., p. 359.


Our object hitherto has been, to the best of our ability, to analyze the view, with which Mr. Milman apparently starts, of his position and office, freely to censure it, but at the same time to vindicate him from any sinister intentions in assuming it. That view involves, as we have incidentally {213} shown, a great error in judgment; it necessarily lays the author open to misrepresentation, as if he held or countenanced what he disapproves; and it could not avoid paining many excellent persons, whom so kindly-tempered a man as Mr. Milman would be very unwilling to perplex or alarm. We should have said thus much, had Mr. Milman adhered ever so rigidly, were that possible, to what seems to us his original design of merely stating the facts of Christianity, without notice, good or bad, of the principles which are their life. But such an adherence was impossible; as in fact he confesses when he speaks of "not altogether declining" theological subjects. He does make a theory of the facts which he records, and such a theory as unhappily implies that they belong mainly to that external system of things of which he writes, and must be directly referred to visible causes and measured by intelligible principles. His mode of writing does not merely pass over, but actually denies the existence and presence among us of that higher and invisible system of which we have spoken above. Not content with claiming for the historical facts of Christianity a place in the course of this world, which they have, he disallows that supernatural world, in which they have a place also. As anatomists might treat man simply according to their science and become materialists, as physical experimentalists might teach pantheism or atheism, as political economists might make wealth the measure of all things and deny the social uses of religion, as the professors of any science may deny the existence of any world of thought but their own, and refer all facts which meet them to it, so Mr. Milman, viewing Christianity as an external political fact, has gone very far indeed towards viewing it as nothing more; denying in one or two places, in so many words, the great truth, {214} which we have been employed above in drawing out, that it is in two worlds at once, and that the same occurrences, persons, and actions seem to be natural consequences of what is seen, and yet really have as natural a place in a system which is not seen. The effects of this denial upon Mr. Milman's history are now to be shown. We have candidly said where we think he is open to unfair misrepresentation; we shall as candidly say where we think he has given just cause of offence and dissatisfaction to all Churchmen.

Just one word, however, first on the author's evident inconsistency, unavoidable as it is under his circumstances, in professing to keep to fact, and yet insinuating a theory. He promised us in his Preface a political and social history—he disclaimed theology. Presently he deprecated polemics. Had we not otherwise been sure of the line he was taking, that protestation alone would have been equivalent, in our judgment, to a declaration of war. As liberals are the bitterest persecutors, so denouncers of controversy are sure to proceed upon the most startling, irritating, blistering methods which the practice of their age furnishes. We never knew of any one of them who set about charming and lulling the spirit of bigotry without joining "Conjuro te, scelestissima," to "good Mrs. Margaret Merrilies." Further evidence how matters stood would have been afforded us, had we fallen upon his concluding pages, in which he tells us that a "clergyman who in a credulous or enthusiastic age dares to be rationally pious, is a phenomenon of moral courage."—Vol. iii., p. 535. These signs of conflict, before and after, have abundant accomplishment in the body of his work. It is quite impossible in the few pages which we are devoting to it (in which we think it best to confine ourselves to one subject), to give an idea of the range and {215} variety of dogmatic thought and statement in which he has allowed himself. To take a few instances which come first to hand:—he tells us, for instance, that the millennium is a "fable of Jewish dotage"—vol. i., p. 79, note; that "among the vulgar there is a passionate attachment to religious tyranny"—p. 292; that "a kind of latent Judaism has constantly lurked within the bosom of the Church"—p. 456; that "the sacerdotal and the sectarian spirit had an equal tendency to disparage the 'perfection of piety' and 'sublimity of virtue'"—p. 457; that "sacerdotal domination is altogether alien to genuine Christianity;" yet that "an hostility to every kind of priesthood," is a sign of a "vitiated" mind—pp. 10, 11, note; that "the sole difference" in a church from a synagogue was, "that God was worshipped in it through the mediation of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth"—vol. ii., p. 2; that Christianity is "grounded on the abrogation of all local claims to peculiar sanctity"—vol. i., p. 319; that the Almighty's "pure and essential spirituality" does not under the Gospel "attach itself to, or exhibit itself under, any form"—p. 22; that "God is power in the old religion, love under the new"—ibid.; that "Christian morality" is, "strictly speaking, no law," but "the establishment of certain principles"—p. 206; that St. Paul "could scarcely be entirely dead to or ignorant" of the "elevating associations" of Athens—vol. ii., p. 16; that the age when Christ came was in an "advanced state of intellectual culture"—vol. i., pp. 8, 36, and "enlightened"—p. 41; and that, because of its "reasoning spirit"—p. 37, Christianity has "accommodated itself to the spirit of successive ages"—p. 47; that it "will advance with the advancement of human nature," and that "intellectual culture is that advancement"—p. 50; and that "the development of a {216} rational and intellectual religion" is "perhaps not yet complete, certainly not general"—p. 49.

These are some of the enunciations of doctrine, true or false, peremptorily advanced by Mr. Milman, and yet he tells us that he writes "as an historian rather than as a religious instructor"—he only does "not decline" theological subjects, writes "as if in total ignorance of the existence" of pending controversies, and "entirely discards all polemic views." Such is Mr. Milman's mode of keeping the peace; and he observes, we suppose, partly with reference to it, that "he himself fully appreciates the difficulty" of his undertaking.—P. 47. All this is so very strange, that we can only suppose that he considers it to be among the rights of philosophy to profess opinions without incurring their responsibilities, to have a sort of lasciar passare, which enables it to introduce bag and baggage free of examination; or that it lives on some high cliff, or some remote watch-tower, and is able thence to contemplate with the poet the sea of human opinion, "alterius spectare laborem;" and in a pure ethereal region to discern Christianity abstracted from all religion, and to gauge it without molestation by principles simply incommensurable with its own. But now to the business in hand.


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