[XII. Milman's View of Christianity]

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We will begin with citing a passage at the end of his volumes, in which he describes and condemns the peculiar religious sentiments of the Middle Age, sentiments which are in fact based upon the very principles which we have above advocated as primitive and true. In doing this, we are fair to Mr. Milman, for it is beautifully written.

"The Christian of these days lived in a supernatural world, or in a world under the constant and felt and discernible interference of {217} supernatural power. God was not only present, but asserting His presence at every instant, not merely on signal occasions and for important purposes, but on the most insignificant acts and persons. The course of nature was beheld, not as one great uniform and majestic miracle, but a succession of small, insulated, sometimes trivial, sometimes contradictory interpositions, often utterly inconsistent with the moral and Christian attributes of God. The divine power and goodness were not spreading abroad like a genial and equable sunlight, enlightening, cheering, vivifying, but breaking out in partial and visible flashes of influence; each incident was a special miracle, the ordinary emotion of the heart was divine inspiration. Each individual had not merely his portion in the common diffusion of religious and moral knowledge or feeling, but looked for his peculiar and especial share in the divine blessing. His dreams came direct from heaven; a new system of Christian omens succeeded the old; witchcraft merely invoked Beelzebub or Satan instead of Hecate; hallowed places only changed their tutelary nymph or genius for a saint or martyr ... God had been brought down, or had condescended to mingle himself with the affairs of men. But where should that faith, which could not but receive these high and consolatory and reasonable truths, set limits to the agency of this beneficent power? How should it discriminate between that which in its apparent discrepancy with the laws of nature (and of those laws how little was known!) was miraculous, and that which, to more accurate observation, was only strange or wonderful, or perhaps the result of ordinary but dimly-seen causes? How still more in the mysterious world of the human mind, of which the laws are still, we will not say in their primitive, but, in comparison with those of external nature, in profound obscurity? If the understanding of man was too much dazzled to see clearly even material objects; if just awakening from a deep trance, it beheld everything floating before it in a mist of wonder, how much more was the mind disqualified to judge of its own emotions, of the origin, suggestion, and powers of those thoughts and emotions which still perplex and baffle our deepest metaphysics."—Vol. iii., pp. 532-534.

No one can deny that this is a very eloquent and striking passage, and, to complete our admissions, we must candidly add that it is a view of the medieval religion {218} in which a number of persons, not friends of Mr. Milman, will concur, and which others again, with greater reason, will consider partly true, and partly false:—now let us see what comes of it, as Mr. Milman uses it.

For instance, two kinds of miracles are recorded in Scripture, public and sensible, and private;—those which many saw, and which had for their object something material; and those which one person or no one saw, or which belonged to the world of spirits. Our Saviour's cures, which were subjected to the scrutiny of the senses, are instances of the former class; the Annunciation and Transfiguration, of the latter. The former form part of the evidences, the latter of the matter or mode of Revelation. The former are facts of this world, and have their place in the political course of things, as fully as facts which are not miraculous; the latter have no such place, but belong solely to the spiritual system. Now Mr. Milman inclines, to say the least, to deny the reality of the latter. Speaking of "the more imaginative incidents of the early Evangelic History" (by which he especially means "the angelic appearances, the revelations of the Deity addressed to the senses of man," in the first chapters of St. Matthew and St. Luke), he observes that "these passages in general are not the vital and essential truths of Christianity, but the vehicle by which these truths were communicated, a kind of language by which opinions were conveyed, and sentiments infused, and the general belief in Christianity implanted, confirmed, and strengthened."—Vol. i., p. 130. He continues:

"Whether then these were actual appearances, or impressions produced on the mind of those who witnessed them, is of slight importance. In either case they are real historical facts; they partake of poetry in their form, and, in a certain sense, in their {219} groundwork; but they are imaginative, not fictitious; true as relating that which appeared to the minds of the relators exactly as it did appear ... The incidents were so ordered that they should thus live in the thoughts of men ... Could, it may be inquired, a purely rational or metaphysical creed have survived for any length of time during such stages of human civilization?"

That is, he considers, that when St. Luke says, "In the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a Virgin," etc., first, that there are reasons for the Blessed Virgin's having an impression that there was an Angel Gabriel, and that he was sent to her; and, secondly, that there are reasons against the occurrence being a real fact external to her mind. That she should think she saw an Angel, is important, he observes, because a religion with such poetical incidents is more influential and long-lived than one that has them not. Well, then, if so, why should not the incidents have really been vouchsafed? has Almighty God no Angels? why should He not have done what He is said to have done, since there is so good a reason for His doing it? Mr. Milman proceeds to give us the reason on the other side, "the purely rational and metaphysical" reason; viz., that according to a certain class of writers, (followers of Hume and and Bentham we suppose,) "these incidents, being irreconcilable with our actual experience, and rendered suspicious by a multitude of later fictions, which are rejected in the mass by most Protestant Christians, cannot accord with the more subtle and fastidious intelligence of the present times. Some writers go so far as to assert that it is impossible that an inquiring and reasoning age should receive these supernatural facts as historical verities."—P. 130. And for the sake of these persons Mr. Milman proposes an intermediate view, as a sort of irenicon or peace-offering, to reconcile the faith {220} of eighteen centuries and the infidelity of the nineteenth; on the one hand suggesting that St. Mary's imagination may have been deceived, or that her "reminiscences" were dim and indistinct, and, on the other, defending her veracity and that of her contemporaries. The circumstances recorded "are too slight," he says, "and wanting in particularity, to give the idea of invention; they seem like a few scattered fragments preserved from oral tradition."—P. 132. On the whole, then, it seems that Mr. Milman inclines to think that God will never do anything which to philosophers is difficult to receive, and that the Blessed Virgin is more likely to have been mistaken than unbelievers to be irrational.

Again, he thus glances at the true explanation of the Angel's appearance to Zacharias:—

"Almost the most important [function of the officiating course] was the watching and supplying with incense the great brazen altar, which stood within the building of the temple, in the first or Holy Place. Into this, at the sound of a small bell, which gave notice to the worshippers at a distance, the ministering priest entered alone; and in the sacred chamber, into which the light of day never penetrated, but where the dim fires of the altar, and the chandeliers which were never extinguished, gave a solemn and uncertain light, still more bedimmed by the clouds of smoke arising from the newly fed altar of incense, no doubt (!), in the pious mind, the sense of the more immediate presence of the Deity, only separated by the veil, which divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, would constantly have awakened the most profound emotions ... In the vision of Zachariah, he had beheld an Angel standing on the right side of the altar," etc.—Vol. i., pp. 90, 91.

Again, of the miracle attendant on our Lord's Baptism, Mr. Milman says, "Neander represents it as a symbolic vision."—P. 151. And he refers to the passages of the Fathers, not happily, as we think, to show that the "explanation of voices from heaven, as a mental {221} perception, not as real articulate sounds, but as inward impressions, is by no means modern, or what passes under the unpopular name of Rationalism." Possibly not; but let us for argument's sake grant it; yet what do we gain by such a view of the subject? this,—we tend to rid ourselves of the unseen world, of the belief that the things which we see have relations to, and are parts of, a system of things which ordinarily does not disclose itself to us. This does not seem to be any great achievement [Note].

Again, when Mr. Milman comes to our Lord's Temptation, after an announcement, with much circumstance but obvious drift, that "on the interpretation of no incident in the Gospels do those who insist on the literal acceptation of the Evangelists' language, and those who consider that even in the New Testament much allowance is to be made for the essentially allegoric character of oriental narrative, depart so far asunder," he adds, in a note, "this is one of those points which will be differently understood according to the turn and cast of mind of different individuals. I would therefore deprecate the making either interpretation an article of faith, or deciding with dogmatic certainty on so perplexing a passage."—P. 153. Afterwards he says, that whether we believe Christ {222} tempted by Satan, or by the High Priest, or by His own feelings, "the moral purport of the scene remains the same, the intimation that the strongest and most lively impressions were made upon the mind of Jesus to withdraw Him," etc.—P. 156. Here is a writer admitting, without "perplexity," the great invisible miracle that the Son of God took on Him a human soul and body, yet finding a difficulty in receiving literally the narrative of His being tempted in that body and soul by the Evil One in person, and "deprecating" the necessity of doing so.

The principles, which the above extracts have been illustrating, make it impossible for Mr. Milman to believe in the reality of demoniacal possession. All the phenomena which demoniacs exhibit can be referred to the laws of pathology; therefore they cannot also have relation to an unseen state of things, and be caused by evil spirits. He says,

"I have no scruple in avowing my opinion on the subject of the demoniacs to be that of Joseph Mede, Lardner, Dr. Mead, Paley, and all the learned modern writers. It was a kind of insanity, not unlikely to be prevalent among a people peculiarly subject to the leprosy and other cutaneous diseases; and nothing was more probable than that lunacy should take the turn and speak the language of the prevailing superstition of the times. As the belief in witchcraft made people fancy themselves witches, so the belief in possession made men of distempered minds fancy themselves possessed."—Vol. i. p. 234, note.

None of us can go a little way with a theory; when it once possesses us, we are no longer our own masters. It makes us speak its words, and do violence to our own nature. Would it be believed that Mr. Milman's zeal against the reality of possessions as a preternatural phenomenon, actually carries him on here to the denial of {223} external and visible fact, which is the very basis on which he has rested his opinion that they were not preternatural? It is obvious that the miracle of the swine interferes with his theory; accordingly he hints at an explanation, which seriously compromises the outward historical fact attendant upon the miracle; that is, first he denies demoniacal possession, because the recorded phenomena of its visitation upon man do not necessarily involve its reality; next he denies the recorded phenomena of its visitation on the swine, which do involve its reality, because there is no such thing as demoniacal possession. How too does this hold with what he assures us elsewhere, that his doubts about invisible or private miracles would not entrench upon sensible or public ones? He told us, that such doubting, "of course, does not apply to facts which must have been either historical events or direct fictions," such as the Resurrection of Jesus.—Vol. i., p.131. And he promised that he would "strictly maintain this important distinction" between them and "the more imaginative incidents of the history." Now for the performance of his engagement.

"The moral difficulty of this transaction has always appeared to me greater than that of reconciling it with the more rational view of demoniacism. Both are much diminished, if not entirely removed, by the theory of KuinoŽl, who attributes to the lunatics the whole of the conversation with Jesus, and supposes that their driving the herd of swine down the precipice was the last paroxysm in which their insanity exhausted itself."—P. 238, note.

Would it be a much greater violence to the history than this, to say, with some unbelievers, that our Lord was taken down from the Cross alive, and showed Himself again without a Resurrection? For after all, as Mr. Milman said just now, would not "the moral purport of the scene remain the same?" What limits are we to put {224} to this denial of historical truth? Where is theory to stop, if it is once allowed?

Again, we read in the Acts a narrative of an evil spirit answering, "Jesus, I know," etc., but Mr. Milman paraphrases it to the effect that the possessed party "had probably before been strongly impressed with the teaching of Paul, and the religion which he preached; and irritated by the interference of persons whom he might know to be hostile to the Christian party, assaulted them with great violence," etc.—vol. ii., p. 28; that is, what Scripture calls an evil spirit, he calls a Christian convert. How long will this interpretation stand? How many will receive it? Will Mr. Milman himself this time next year?


Now let us proceed to some further, though hardly more violent practisings, upon the Christian documents and facts, which these volumes exhibit. The following is curious as a reductio ad absurdum of Mr. Milman's beau ideal of the Christian temper. He observes that James and John, who "received the remarkable name of Boanerges, the Sons of Thunder ... do not appear remarkable among their brethren either for energy or vehemence:" and he adds, that accordingly "it is not easy to trace" its "exact force;" and that "the peculiar gentleness of" St. John "both in character and in the style of his writings, would lead us to doubt the correctness of the interpretation generally assigned to the appellation."—Vol. i., p. 225. Strange to say, his only idea of St. John's, as of our Lord's character, as seen in Scripture, is gentleness; and then, strong in this most gratuitous assumption, he finds a difficulty in the received interpretation of a plain passage.

In the same way, in another place, he "would reject, {225} as the offspring of a more angry and controversial age, the story of St. John's "flying in fear and indignation from a bath polluted by the presence of the heretic Cerinthus."—Vol. ii., p. 62. Did not our author recollect certain "angry and controversial" words ascribed to St. John in Scripture? "If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed."

Striking too is the contrast between the clear, keen, majestic, and awful language of the Evangelists and Mr. Milman's circuitous, inadequate, and (we must add) feeble version of it. St. Luke says of Herod, "immediately the Angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory;" Mr. Milman explains away both the fact and the reason. "In [the] terrific and repulsive circumstances" of his death, he says, "the Christians could not but behold the hand of their protecting God,"—vol. i., p. 410; whereas the remarkable thing is that it is not represented in Scripture as an interposition in behalf of the Church at all.

Again, "Whosoever sinneth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come," is turned into "an offence which argued such total obtuseness of moral perception, such utter incapacity of feeling or comprehending the beauty either of the conduct or the doctrine of Jesus, as to leave no hope that they would ever be reclaimed from their rancorous hostility to His religion, or be qualified for admission into the pale and to the benefits of the new faith."—Vol. i., p. 235. Forgiveness of sins, the one subject of our Lord's announcement in this passage, is literally obliterated from it by Mr. Milman;—whence this strange aversion to mention sin and the forgiveness of sin?

Again: of the passage which speaks of "the unclean {226} spirit going out of a man," etc., he observes that Christ "reverts in language of more than usual energy," (that is, not "gentle" language, we presume,) "to the incapacity of the age and nation to discern the real and intrinsic superiority of His religion."—P. 236.

In our Lord's slowly granting the request of the Syro-phœnician, who wished for the crumbs that were the dog's portion, with the words, "O woman, great is thy faith," Mr. Milman discerns but a condescension to the prejudices of the Jews and His Apostles, by which "Jesus was enabled to display His own benevolence without awakening, or confirming if already awakened, the quick suspicion of His followers."—P. 253.

In the same spirit he elsewhere observes that the Apostles, "with cautious deference to Jewish feeling, were forbidded to proceed beyond the borders of the Holy Land."—P. 238. The words, "Ye are of your father the devil," (words which Mr. Milman apparently feels to be inconsistent with what he considers our Lord's "gentleness,") become "the spirit of evil, in whose darkest and most bloody temper they were ready to act, was rather the parent of men with dispositions so diabolic."—P. 268.

The discourse in the Synagogue of Capernaum, after the miracle of the loaves, related by St. John, ch. vi., is explained to mean merely "the improvement of the moral and spiritual condition of man, described under the strong but not unusual figure of nourishment administered to the soul."—P. 243. How can an earnest mind, contemplating our Lord's most mysterious words, thus satisfy itself? Further, Mr. Milman tells us that in the rite of the Lord's Supper there really are "allusions to the breaking of His body and for the pouring forth of His blood."—P. 329.

He says respecting the incident in John xii., that what "the unbelieving part of the multitude heard only as an {227} accidental burst of thunder, to others ... seemed an audible, a distinct,—or, according to those who adhere to the strict letter,—the"—(it avails not to delay, out with it!)—"the articulate voice of an Angel."—P. 306. Yes, the real articulate voice; how painful to our "subtle and fastidious intelligence"!

As to the power of binding and loosing, promised first to St. Peter, then to all the Apostles, then afterwards bestowed, the subject is too formidable, we suppose, to approach siccis oculis. Mr. Milman thus hurries by: "the Apostle" St. Peter, "is commended in language so strong that the pre-eminence of Peter over the rest of the Twelve has been mainly supported by the words of Jesus employed on this occasion."—P. 256. What? do these memorable words, in substance thrice uttered, only account for a certain interpretation of them? do they determine but a relative question? do they decide nothing at all positive about all the Apostles?

It is quite perplexing what satisfaction a man of Mr. Milman's religious character can have in explaining away the supernatural accompaniments of our Lord's last conflict; and yet he certainly does seem to think it even more philosophical to make the Resurrection an isolated miracle. "This spake he," says the Evangelist, of Caiaphas, "not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied:" "his language," says Mr. Milman, "was afterwards treasured in the memory of the Christians as inadvertently prophetic."—P. 286. He says that Pilate's wife's dream was in "her morning slumbers, when visions were supposed to be more than ordinarily true."—P. 355. The impenitent thief is "infected" with a "fanatical Judaism;" his companion is "of milder disposition;" and "inclines to believe in Jesus," who, "speaking in the current language, promises him an immediate {228} reward."—P. 361. As to the resurrection of "many bodies of the saints that slept," Mr. Milman is of opinion that the earthquake opened the tombs and exposed the dead to public view. He adds, "To the awestruck and depressed minds of the followers of Jesus, no doubt, were confined those visionary appearances of the spirits of their deceased brethren, which are obscurely intimated in the rapid narratives of the Evangelists."—P. 365. What antecedent objection does the "intelligence" of this age find to the resurrection of the bodies of these saints which will not apply also to the resurrection at the last day? They must rise some time; why should they not have risen then? because, Mr. Milman seems to answer, there is no system going on in the world now, except the visible, political, temporal system which our eyes and ears experience. Again: to the minds of the women he says "highly excited and bewildered with astonishment, with terror, and with grief, appeared what is described by the Evangelist as a 'vision of angels.' One or more beings in human form seated in the shadowy twilight within the sepulchre."—P. 378.

One circumstance, however, we cheerfully acknowledge,—that Mr. Milman does not, with some writers of latter times, in violence to our Lord's words, explain away the guilt, or what he calls "the extraordinary conduct," of Judas. He candidly says, "Much ingenuity has been displayed by some recent writers in attempting to palliate, or rather account for, this extraordinary conduct of Judas; but the language in which Jesus spoke of the crime appears to confirm the common opinion of its enormity."—P. 326. As to his remorse, he considers that there were quite circumstances enough to "drive him to desperation, little short of insanity."—P. 329. This, we suppose, is to show that he need not have a verdict of felo de se recorded against him. {229}


We have now seen how Mr. Milman's theory operates upon the facts and documents of Christianity; now let us observe what it does for its fundamental and essential doctrines, which, even without taking it into account, have, as we have already seen, fared very hardly from his mere negative method of historical composition. In doing this, however, we do not make Mr. Milman responsible for our account of his views. Principles have a life and power independent of their authors, and make their way in spite of them;—this at least is our philosophy. Mr. Milman may in his own instance limit or modify what nevertheless has its mission, and, whether he like it or not, will be sure to tell its tale to an end, before it has done. By others, then, it must be viewed, not shackled, and as it were muzzled, according to any careful directions which this or that writer may deliver, but in itself. We are sure that Mr. Milman does not see the tendency of the line of thought of which both his present and a former work give such anxious evidence; and therefore, while we need not, we clearly could not, if we tried, delineate the principles which are contained in them, as they are held by himself personally;—he would be sure to say we were unfair. The very inconsistency which, in a former place, we pointed out, between the design and the execution of his work, is an intelligible warning to us what a false position we should be taking up, if we were to attempt to draw out for ourselves his doctrinal notion of Christianity. We disclaim such an intention altogether. No writer likes to accept his opinions in the wording of an opponent. We shall use Mr. Milman's volumes, therefore, only in illustration of those momentous principles, which he has adopted indeed, but which are outside of him, and will not be his slaves. {230}

As regards then the settlement of Christian doctrine, Mr. Milman's External Theory seems to us to result or manifest itself in the following canon:—That nothing belongs to the Gospel but what originated in it; and that whatever, professing to belong to it, is found in anterior or collateral systems, may be put out of it as a foreign element. Such a maxim easily follows upon that denial of the supernatural system, which we have above imputed in large measure to Mr. Milman. They who consider with him that there was, for instance, no spiritual agency in what is called demoniacal possession, on the ground that the facts of the case may be satisfactorily referred to physical causes, are bound, or at least are easily persuaded, to deny for the same reason any doctrine to come from Christ, which they can trace to the schools of men. Such persons cannot enter into the possibility of a visible and an invisible course of things going on at once, whether co-extensive or not, acting on each other more or less, and sometimes even to the cognizance of our senses. Were the electric fluid ascertained to be adequate to the phenomena of life, they would think it bad philosophy to believe in the presence of a soul; and, sooner than believe that Angels now minister to us unseen, they deny that they were ever seen in their ministrations. No wonder then that in like manner as regards the articles of the Creed, they deny that what is historically human can be doctrinally divine, confuse the outward process with the secret providence, and argue as if instruments in nature preclude the operations of grace. When they once arrive at a cause or source in the secular course of things, it is enough; and thus, while Angels melt into impressions, Catholic truths are resolved into the dogmas of Plato or Zoroaster.

A theory does not prove itself; it makes itself probable {231} so far as it falls in with our preconceived notions, as it accounts for the phenomena it treats of, as it is internally consistent, and as it excels or excludes rival theories. We should leave Mr. Milman's undisturbed, and proceed at once, as we proposed, merely to give instances of its operation, except that it might seem to be allowing to that theory, as it were, possession of the field, when, in truth, there is another far more Catholic philosophy upon which the facts of the case, as Mr. Milman states them, may be solved. Now, the phenomenon, admitted on all hands, is this:—that great portion of what is generally received as Christian truth, is in its rudiments or in its separate parts to be found in heathen philosophies and religions. For instance, the doctrine of a Trinity is found both in the East and in the West; so is the ceremony of washing; so is the rite of sacrifice. The doctrine of the Divine Word is Platonic; the doctrine of the Incarnation is Indian; of a divine kingdom is Judaic; of Angels and demons is Magian; the connexion of sin with the body is Gnostic; celibacy is known to Bonze and Talapoin; a sacerdotal order is Egyptian; the idea of a new birth is Chinese and Eleusinian; belief in sacramental virtue is Pythagorean; and honours to the dead are a polytheism. Such is the general nature of the fact before us; Mr. Milman argues from it,—"These things are in heathenism, therefore they are not Christian:" we, on the contrary, prefer to say, "these things are in Christianity, therefore they are not heathen." That is, we prefer to say, and we think that Scripture bears us out in saying, that from the beginning the Moral Governor of the world has scattered the seeds of truth far and wide over its extent; that these have variously taken root, and grown up as in the wilderness, wild plants indeed but living; and hence that, as the inferior animals have {232} tokens of an immaterial principle in them, yet have not souls, so the philosophies and religions of men have their life in certain true ideas, though they are not directly divine. What man is amid the brute creation, such is the Church among the schools of the world; and as Adam gave names to the animals about him, so has the Church from the first looked round upon the earth, noting and visiting the doctrines she found there. She began in Chaldea, and then sojourned among the Canaanites, and went down into Egypt, and thence passed into Arabia, till she rested in her own land. Next she encountered the merchants of Tyre, and the wisdom of the East country, and the luxury of Sheba. Then she was carried away to Babylon, and wandered to the schools of Greece. And wherever she went, in trouble or in triumph, still she was a living spirit, the mind and voice of the Most High; "sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions;" claiming to herself what they said rightly, correcting their errors, supplying their defects, completing their beginnings, expanding their surmises, and thus gradually by means of them enlarging the range and refining the sense of her own teaching. So far then from her creed being of doubtful credit because it resembles foreign theologies, we even hold that one special way in which Providence has imparted divine knowledge to us has been by enabling her to draw and collect it together out of the world, and, in this sense, as in others, to suck the milk of the Gentiles and to suck the breast of kings.

How far in fact this process has gone, is a question of history; and we believe it has before now been grossly exaggerated and misrepresented by those who, like Mr. Milman, have thought that its existence told against {233} Catholic doctrine; but so little antecedent difficulty have we in the matter, that we could readily grant, unless it were a question of fact not of theory, that Balaam was an Eastern sage, or a Sibyl was inspired, or Solomon learnt of the sons of Mahol, or Moses was a scholar of the Egyptian hierophants. We are not distressed to be told that the doctrine of the angelic host came from Babylon, while we know that they did sing at the Nativity; nor that the vision of a Mediator is in Philo, if in very deed He died for us on Calvary. Nor are we afraid to allow, that, even after His coming, the Church has been a treasure-house, giving forth things old and new, casting the gold of fresh tributaries into her refiner's fire, or stamping upon her own, as time required it, a deeper impress of her Master's image.

The distinction between these two theories is broad and obvious. The advocates of the one imply that Revelation was a single, entire, solitary act, or nearly so, introducing a certain message; whereas we, who maintain the other, consider that Divine teaching has been in fact, what the analogy of nature would lead us to expect, "at sundry times and in divers manners," various, complex, progressive, and supplemental of itself. We consider the Christian doctrine, when analyzed, to appear, like the human frame, "fearfully and wonderfully made;" but they think it some one tenet or certain principles given out at one time in their fulness, without gradual enlargement before Christ's coming or elucidation afterwards. They cast off all that they also find in Pharisee or heathen; we conceive that the Church, like Aaron's rod, devours the serpents of the magicians. They are ever hunting for a fabulous primitive simplicity; we repose in Catholic fulness. They seek what never has been found; we accept and use {234} what even they acknowledge to be a substance. They are driven to maintain, on their part, that the Church's doctrine was never pure; we say that it never can be corrupt. We consider that a divine promise keeps the Church Catholic from doctrinal corruption; but on what promise, or on what encouragement, they are seeking for their visionary purity does not appear.


Which of these theories is the true, this is not the place for discussing; our business here, to which we now address ourselves, is to trace out some of the applications of the one on which Mr. Milman proceeds, as his volumes enable us to do, and to inquire how much will be left of Christianity at the end of the process. He states then, that in her first ages the Church separately encountered Judaism, Orientalism, and Paganism, and again, that her system resembles all three. From the encounter, he would argue the probability of their influencing her; from the resemblance the fact. He says:

"As a universal religion aspiring to the complete moral conquest of the world, Christianity had to encounter three antagonists, Judaism, Paganism, and Orientalism. It is our design successively to exhibit the conflict with these opposing forces, its final triumph, not without detriment to its own native purity and its divine simplicity, from the interworking of the yet unsubdued elements of the former systems into the Christian mind; until each, at successive periods, and in different parts of the world, formed a modification of Christianity equally removed from its unmingled and unsullied original; the Judśo-Christianity of Palestine, of which the Ebionites appear to have been the last representatives; the Platonic Christianity of Alexandria, as, at least at this early period, the new religion could coalesce only with the sublime and more philosophical principles of Paganism; and, lastly, the Gnostic Christianity of the East."—Vol. i., p. 413. {235}

In like manner he speaks elsewhere of an "inveterate Judaism," which "has perpetually revived in the Christian Church in days of excitement."—P. 148. "The Grecian philosophy," he says, "and, at a later period, influences still more adverse to that of Judaism, mingled with the prevailing Christianity. A kind of latent Judaism has, however, constantly lurked within the bosom of the Church."—P. 456. Again, "Asiatic influences have worked more completely into the body and essence of Christianity than any other foreign elements."—Vol. ii., p. 82. Such, we say, is the theory; now to apply it.

To begin with the hierarchy of Angels, to which we have already referred. Speaking of Simon Magus's doctrine on that subject, Mr. Milman says:

"This peopling of the universe with a regular descending succession of beings was common to the whole East, perhaps in great part to the West. The later Jewish doctrines of angels and devils approached nearly to it; it lurked in Platonism, and assumed a higher form in the Eastern cosmogonies."—Vol. ii., p. 101.

And more strongly in an earlier passage:

"It is generally admitted that the Jewish notions about the angels, one great subject of dispute in their synagogues, and what may be called their demonology, received a strong foreign tinge during their residence in Babylonia ... In apparent allusion to or coincidence with this system, the visions of Daniel represent Michael, the titular angel or intelligence of the Jewish people, in opposition to the four angels of the great monarchies; and even our Saviour seems to condescend to the popular language when He represents the parental care of the Almighty over children under the significant and beautiful image, 'for in heaven,'" etc.—Vol. i., p. 70.

It seems, then, the angelic hierarchy is not a doctrine of divine truth, because it was taught in the Zendavesta; and further, what is still more observable, even our Lord's teaching it does not make it so. This illustrates {236} forcibly the view given above of Mr. Milman's canon for ascertaining what is matter of Revelation. Our Lord cannot say a thing in earnest, which heathen sages taught or surmised before Him.

Next, Mr. Milman tells us that "the Jew concurred with the worshipper of Ormusd in expecting a final restoration of all things through the agency of a Divine Intelligence."—Vol. i., p. 77. The words of St. Peter might come into the reader's mind, about the time of refreshing, when "He shall send Jesus Christ, whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things;" but Mr. Milman overturns the authority of the whole passage, observing that it seems "as if even yet Peter himself was not disencumbered of that Jewish notion of an immediate re-appearance of Christ."—Vol. i., p. 391. "The disciple is not better than his Lord;" if not Christ's, much less are St. Peter's words, though spoken after a miracle, matter of Divine Revelation, provided they betray any resemblance to a doctrine of Zoroaster.

Speaking of the Resurrection, he says, "It appears … in its more perfect development, soon after the return from the captivity. As early as the revolt of the Maccabees, it was so deeply rooted in the public mind, that we find a solemn ceremony performed for the dead ... In the Zoroastrian religion, a resurrection holds a place no less prominent than in the later Jewish belief."—Vol. i., p. 75. In spite of this, Mr. Milman of course insists, though we see not with what consistency, on the doctrine of the Resurrection as proper to Christianity; however, soon after the above passages, speaking of the "Oriental colouring" which the Jews adopted, he says, "even the doctrine of the Resurrection was singularly harmonized with their exclusive nationality. At least {237} the first Resurrection was to be their separate portion; it was to summon them, if not all, at least the more righteous, from Paradise, from the abode of departed spirits; and under their triumphant king they were to enjoy a thousand years of glory and bliss upon the recreated and renovated earth."—P. 78. Is not this "colouring," as Mr. Milman calls it, very like St. John's language in the Apocalypse? Is that language to fare as the words of our Lord and St. Peter? or is it, on the other hand, to be considered as Eastern tradition which is appropriated and guaranteed by St. John?

But there are instances in which Mr. Milman recoils from his own theory. For example, he tells us, that "the practice of the external washing of the body, as emblematic of the inward purification of the soul, is almost universal. The sacred Ganges cleanses all moral pollution from the Indian; among the Greeks and Romans, even the murderer might, it was supposed, wash the blood clean from his hands ... The perpetual similitude and connexion between the uncleanness of the body and of the soul, which run through the Mosaic law ... must have familiarized the mind with the mysterious effects attributed to such a rite."—P. 142. True; but then why might not Orientalism in like manner "familiarize" the mind with the religious observance of celibacy, instead of throwing discredit on its divine authority?

Again, concerning the doctrine of a Mediator, Mr. Milman says:

"Wherever any approximation had been made to the sublime truth of the one great First Cause, either awful religious reverence or philosophic abstraction had removed the primal deity entirely beyond the sphere of human sense, and supposed that the intercourse of the Divinity with man, the moral government, and even {238} the original creation, had been carried on by the intermediate agency, either in Oriental language of an emanation, or in the Platonic, of the wisdom, reason, or intelligence of the one Supreme. This Being was more or less distinctly impersonated according to the more popular or more philosophic, the more material or more abstract notions of the age or people. This was the doctrine from the Ganges, or even the shores of the Yellow Sea to the Ilissus; it was the fundamental principle of the Indian religion and Indian philosophy; it was the basis of Zoroastrianism, it was pure Platonism, it was the Platonic Judaism of the Alexandrian school. Many fine passages might be quoted from Philo, on the impossibility that the first self-existing Being should become cognizable to the sense of man."—Vol. i., pp. 72, 73.

Now, here again, as before, the principle which Mr. Milman elsewhere applies, is too much for him: and since he will not admit that this universal belief is from tradition or secret suggestion, (as we would maintain,) and of course dare not take the alternative, which in consistency he ought to take, of denying that what is found outside of Christianity is part of Christianity, he is obliged to have recourse to the following expedient by way of accounting for the fact: "From this remarkable uniformity of conception and coincidence of language," he says, "has sometimes been assumed a common tradition, generally disseminated throughout the race of man. I should be content with receiving it as the general acquiescence of the human mind in the necessity of some mediation between the pure spiritual nature of the Deity and the intellectual and moral being of man."—P. 74. "Content," means "too happy, thus to turn my back upon my own theory;" however, supposing others are not content? all minds have not equal piety; they are carried away by reason; they are run off with by a principle; what is to hinder a writer less religious-minded than Mr. Milman, proceeding to infer concerning the doctrine of mediation what he himself does infer concerning {239} the angelic host? Is not mediation proved to be an Orientalism? and may not the "moral effect" of its idea be the same on the vulgar, even though the "refined intelligence" of the educated, who do not need it, should decline it? And again, if the universality of the doctrine of mediation is to be accounted for on an instinct, why may not the doctrine of celibacy also?

In like manner all the divine and regal titles of Christ had been anticipated in one quarter or another; why are they not to be rejected as Oriental, Jewish, or Alexandrian? Mr. Milman tells us—

"Each region, each rank, each sect, the Babylonian, the Egyptian, the Palestinian, the Samaritan, the Pharisee, the lawyer, the zealot, arrayed the Messiah in those attributes which suited his own temperament. Of that which was more methodically taught in the synagogue of the adjacent school, the populace caught up whatever made the deeper impression. The enthusiasm took an active or contemplative, an ambitious or a religious, an earthly or a heavenly tone, according to the education, habits, or station of the believer; and to different men the Messiah was man or angel, or more than angel; he was king, conqueror, or moral reformer; a more victorious Joshua, a more magnificent Herod, a wider-ruling Cśsar, a wiser Moses, a holier Abraham; an angel, the angel of the Covenant, the Metatron, the Mediator between God and man; Michael, the great tutelar archangel of the nation, who appears by some to have been identified with the mysterious Being who led them forth from Egypt; he was the word of God; an emanation from the Deity, himself partaking of the Divine nature."—Vol. i., pp. 82, 83.

Or, to take another passage:

"In all the systems a binary, in most a triple, modification of the Deity was admitted. The Logos, the divine word or reason, might differ in the various schemes, in its relation to the parental divinity, and to the universe; but it had this distinctive and ineffaceable character, that it was the mediator, the connecting link between the unseen and unapproachable world and that of man. This Platonism, if it may be so called, was universal. It had gradually absorbed all the more intellectual class; it hovered over, as it {240} were, and gathered under its wings all the religions of the world. It had already modified Judaism; it had allied itself with the Syrian and Mithraic worship of the Sun, the visible Mediator, the emblem of the word; it was part of the general Nature worship; it was attempting to renew Paganism, and was the recognized and leading tenet in the higher mysteries."—Vol. ii., p. 427-8.

Where then are we to stop? What will be left to us of Christianity, if we assume that nothing is of its essence which is found elsewhere? Will even its precepts remain? "If we were to glean," says Mr. Milman, "from the later Jewish writings, from the beautiful aphorisms of other Oriental nations, which we cannot fairly trace to Christian sources, and from the Platonic and Stoic philosophy, their more striking precepts, we might find perhaps a counterpart to almost all the moral sayings of Jesus. But the same truth is of different importance as an unconnected aphorism, and as the groundwork of a complete system."—Vol. i., p. 207. Most true; but we suspect the same distinction will be found to hold concerning some other Catholic doctrines and observances, which Mr. Milman would reject as Oriental or Judaic. It will hold too, in a remarkable manner, of a doctrine, which, as we have shown above, Mr. Milman so strangely passes over, but which surely is the practical basis of the whole Revelation, the forgiveness of sins.

However, there are two doctrines, which Mr. Milman seems to admit as especially proper to Christianity, which therefore ought to be especially considered of the essence of the Revelation; we suspect, however, that, characteristic as they are, they are not of that liberal and enlarged sort, which will please the "fastidious intelligence" of this age. The two to which we allude, are the principle of dogmatism, and the doctrine of ecclesiastical liberty. This is remarkable. {241}

As to the former of the two, the principle of maintaining the faith, Mr. Milman says, speaking of the times of Athanasius:

"How singular an illustration of the change already wrought in the mind of man by the introduction of Christianity ... This controversy related to a purely speculative tenet. The disputants of either party ... appear to have dwelt little, if at all, on the practical effects of conflicting opinions. In morals, in manners, in habits, in usages, in Church government, in religious ceremonial, there was no distinction between the parties which divided Christendom ... The Arians and Athanasians first divided the world on a pure question of faith ... Religion was become the one dominant passion of the whole Christian world; and everything allied to it, or rather, in this case, which seemed to concern its very essence, could no longer be agitated with tranquillity or debated with indifference."—Vol. ii., pp. 423-432.

The other principle was that of ecclesiastical liberty:

"It is curious," observes Mr. Milman, "to observe this new element of freedom, however at present working in a concealed, irregular, and perhaps still guarded manner, mingling itself up with, and partially upheaving, the general prostration of the human mind. The Christian, or in some respects it might be more justly said, the hierarchical principle, was entering into the constitution of human society, as an antagonist power to that of the civil sovereign."—Vol. iii., p. 34.


Instances, however, such as these, deserving as they are of notice, scarcely do more than illustrate the rule to which they are exceptions. We repeat, then, in perfect sincerity and much anxiety, our inquiry,—What tenet of Christianity will escape proscription, if the principle is once admitted, that a sufficient account is given of an opinion, and a sufficient ground for making light of it, as soon as it is historically referred to some human origin? {242} What will be our Christianity? What shall we have to believe? What will be left to us? Will more remain than a caput mortuum, with no claim on our profession or devotion? Will the Gospel be a substance? Will Revelation have done more than introduce a quality into our moral life world, not anything that can be contemplated by itself, obeyed and perpetuated? This we do verily believe to be the end of the speculations, of which Mr. Milman's volumes at least serve as an illustration. If we indulge them, Christianity will melt away in our hands like snow; we shall be unbelievers before we at all suspect where we are. With a sigh we shall suddenly detect the real state of the case. We shall look on Christianity, not as a religion, but as a past event which exerted a great influence on the course of the world, when it happened, and gave a tone and direction to religion, government, philosophy, literature, manners; an idea which developed itself in various directions strongly, which was indeed from the first materialized into a system or a church, and is still upheld as such by numbers, but by an error; a great boon to the world, bestowed by the Giver of all good, as the discovery of printing may be, or the steam-engine, but as incapable of continuity, except in its effects, as the shock of an earthquake, or the impulsive force which commenced the motions of the planets.

It is impossible that a thoughtful man like Mr. Milman should not feel this difficulty even as a matter of logical consistency, not to speak of it as a deep practical question. Accordingly he has attempted, though, as we think, most arbitrarily and unsuccessfully, to set bounds to his own principle, and to shut the door on innovation, when he has let in as much of it as suited his taste. Some incidental symptoms of his anxiety have appeared {243} in the course of passages lately quoted; but it is elsewhere embodied in protests, cautions, and attempts at explanation. Early in his work he begins by a protest;—after speaking of the successive changes which have taken place in the form of Christianity, he proceeds:

"While, however, Christianity necessarily submitted to all these modifications, I strongly protest against the opinion, that the origin of the religion can be attributed, according to a theory adopted by many foreign writers, to the gradual and spontaneous development of the human mind. Christ is as much beyond His own age, as His own age is beyond the darkest barbarism."—Vol. i., p. 50.

Doubtless, no principle of Mr. Milman's book is inconsistent with the proof of our Lord's divine mission concisely stated by him in the last sentence; but proof in behalf of His mission does not tend to determine His doctrine. The question is, whether Mr. Milman has not taken up a position which puts him out of reach of all means of ascertaining or proving what Christ came to tell the world? For instance, he himself seems to be contented to retreat back as far as the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and there to take his stand. Now this is confessedly not a new doctrine, first proposed by Christianity; let us see then whether he can so state his case in its favour, as not at the same time to suggest proof in behalf of other doctrines which he rejects. He thus defends it from the objection in question:

"Henceforward that great truth begins to assume a new character, and to obtain an influence over the political and social, as well as over the individual, happiness of man, unknown in the former ages of the world. It is no longer a feeble and uncertain instinct, nor a remote speculative opinion, obscured by the more pressing necessities and cares of the present life, but the universal predominant sentiment, constantly present to the thoughts, enwoven with the usages, and pervading the whole moral being of {244} man. The dim and scattered rays, either of traditionary belief, of intuitive feeling, or of philosophic reasoning, were brought as it were to a focus, condensed and poured with an immeasurably stronger, an expanding, an all-permeating light upon the human soul. Whatever its origin, whether in human nature, or the aspirations of high-thoughted individuals, propagated through their followers, or in former revelation, it received such an impulse, and was so deeply and universally moulded up with the popular mind in all orders, that from this period may be dated the true era of its dominion. If by no means new in its elementary principle, it was new in the degree and the extent to which it began to operate in the affairs of men."—Vol. i., pp. 371, 372.

A very good argument indeed, as we should say, in favour of the doctrine of the soul's immortality as a part of the special Gospel message. Yet, strange to say, hardly has Mr. Milman uttered it, but he is obliged in a note to make the following most remarkable, though indirect, confession, that the rationalizing principles which he has adopted do not necessarily secure even to this doctrine a place in the idea of Christianity; and that, in the judgment, not of any mere paradoxical minds, but of one of the most profound thinkers, as fame goes, of his age. Mr. Milman says:

"The most remarkable evidence of the extent to which German speculation has wandered away from the first principles of Christianity, is this, that one of the most religious writers, the one who has endeavoured with the most earnest sincerity to reconnect religious belief with the philosophy of the times, has actually represented Christianity without, or almost without, the immortality of the soul; and this the ardent and eloquent translator of Plato! Copious and full on the moral regeneration effected by Christ in this world, with the loftiest sentiments of the emancipation of the human soul from the bondage of sin by the Gospel, Schleiermacher is silent, or almost silent, on the redemption from death. He beholds Christ distinctly as bringing life, only vaguely and remotely, as bringing immortality to light."—Vol. i., p. 372, note.

Christianity did not even bring the immortality of the {245} soul to light; where then, after all, and what is Christianity?

However, Mr. Milman's expedient for limiting his own principles is, as we have seen, this,—to assert that a broad line must be drawn between the starting and the continuance of the religion, Divine Providence watching over it for its purity in the first age in a way in which it did not in the second; and then, as if by way of makeup to the second and following ages for this implied charge of corruption against them, to console them with the concession that perhaps their corruptions tended to the permanence of Christianity. But the champions of the ages in question, with all due acknowledgments for the compliment, will not allow him thus delicately to tiptoe over the difficulty. His words are these:

"On a wide and comprehensive survey of the whole history of Christianity, and considering it as left altogether to its own native force and impulse, it is difficult to estimate how far the admission, even the predominance, of these foreign elements, by which it was enabled to maintain its hold on different ages and races, may not have contributed both to its original success and its final permanence. If it lost in purity, it gained in power, perhaps in permanence. No doubt in its first contest with Orientalism, were sown those seeds which grew up at a later period into Monasticism; it rejected the tenets, but admitted the more insidious principle of Gnosticism; yet there can be little doubt that in the dark ages the monastic spirit was among the great conservative and influential elements of Christianity."—Vol. ii., pp. 94, 95.

We neither thank Mr. Milman for granting to us that the monastic spirit has been "conservative," nor will we grant to him in turn that "no doubt" it sprang from the "insidious principle of Gnosticism."

It will be observed that throughout the foregoing remarks on Mr. Milman's volumes, we have been granting generally the existence of a resemblance between {246} Christianity and certain doctrines and practices scattered to and fro in the heathen philosophies and religions. Our purpose was to show that the genuineness of the Catholic creed, ethics, and ritual was unaffected by this fact; their being an existing Catholic theory on which the fact could stand without detriment to Catholicism, as well as a popular and liberalistic theory according to which the fact would throw discredit upon it. But the professed fact itself needs careful looking after, for it has been before now, and is continually, shamefully misstated. We had intended in this place to have added some words upon it, but our limits forbid.

There is another question which obviously arises out of the fact under consideration, viz., as to its effect upon the authority of Revealed Religion. It may be objected, that originality is necessary, if not for truth of doctrine, at least for evidence of divinity; and, though there is nothing very profound in the remark, it ought to be answered; and we mention it, that we may be seen not to have forgotten it.


And now, in bringing our remarks on this able work to an end, we must confess the mixed feeling with which we have made them. We have felt it to be an imperative duty to take that view of Mr. Milman's volumes which first presents itself to a Churchman. It is also their prominent aspect, and such as is likely to arrest the attention of the general reader, as well as of those whose habit of mind it is to associate the visible world with the invisible. The second aspect in which we should regard them, is as being a serviceable collection, or commonplace-book, of the worst which can be said by a {247} candid enemy against the theory of Catholicism. The third remark we make upon them, and we make it with great sincerity and much pleasure, only wishing it could come first instead of third, is in their praise as a work of unusual learning and thought, containing a large mass of information, valuable to the students of ecclesiastical history. The author's method has its good side as well as its bad. He treats Catholic persons, proceedings, and events, in a large and tolerant spirit. His sketches of the great bishops of the fourth century are particularly interesting, though defaced, of course, by the peculiarities of his religious theory. With the same drawback, we can express great satisfaction in many of his discussions on particular points, of which we especially notice the chapters called "Christianity and Orientalism," and "Christianity and the Fine Arts."

It is indeed most painful, independently of all personal feelings which a scholar and poet so early distinguished as Mr. Milman must excite in the minds of his brethren, that a work so elaborate and so important should be composed upon principles which are calculated to turn all kindly feeling into mere antipathy and disgust. Indeed there is so much to shock people, that there is comparatively little to injure. To one set of persons only is he likely to do much mischief, those who just at this moment are so ready to use his main principle for the demolition of Catholic views, without seeing that it applies to the New Testament History and teaching just as well. He will assist such persons in carrying out their principle. We observe that a publication, prominent in this warfare, cautions its readers against Mr. Milman's most dangerous and insidious work. We beg to join this publication and all other similar ones in its sage and seasonable warning. Let all who carp at {248} the Fathers and deny Tradition, who argue against sacramental influence, who refer celibacy to Gnosticism, and episcopal power to Judaism, who declaim against mysticism, and scoff at the miracles of the Church while at the same time they uphold what is called orthodox Protestantism, steadily abstain from Mr. Milman's volumes. On their controversial principles his reasonings and conclusions are irresistible.

January, 1841.

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Mr. Milman says of the pool of Bethesda, that it "was supposed to possess remarkable properties for healing diseases. At certain periods there was a strong commotion in the waters, which probably bubbled up from some chemical cause connected with their medicinal effects. Popular belief, or rather perhaps popular language, attributed this agitation of the surface to the descent of an Angel."—Vol. i., p. 215. On the other hand, the Evangelist says expressly, "an Angel went down at a certain season into the pool." Mr. Milman adds in a note, that "the verse relating to the Angel is rejected as spurious by many critics, and is wanting in some manuscripts." That is a fair argument against it: if the verse cannot be supported on external evidence, let it be rejected; but let it not be kept, and explained away on a theory.
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