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Free Religion

                                                   [from the Catholic World for November, 1869]

            This Free Religious Association appears to be composed of men and women who, some thirty years ago, were, or would have been, called come-outers in Boston and its vicinity, but who are now generally called radicals, a name which they seem quite willing to accept. They are universal agitators, and see or imagine grievances everywhere, and make it a point wherever they see or can invent a grievance, to hit it; at least, to strike at it. They were conspicuous in the late abolition movement, are strenuous advocates for negro equality – or, rather, negro superiority – stanch women’s rights men, in a word, reformers in general. They claim to have a pure and universal religion; and though some of them are downright atheists, they profess to be more Christian than Christianity itself, and their aim would seem to be to get rid of all special religion, so as to have only religion in general. They say, in the first article of their constitution:

            “This association shall be called the Free Religious Association – its objects being to promote the interests of pure religion, to encourage the scientific study of theology, and to increase fellowship in the spirit; and to this end all persons interested in these objects are cordially invited to its membership.”

            Nothing can be fairer or broader, so far as words go. Ordinary mortals, however, may be puzzled to make out what this religion in general, and no religion in particular, really is; and also to understand how there can be pure religion and scientific theology without God. Our radical friends are not puzzled at all. They have only to call man God, and the scientific study of the physiological and psychological laws of human nature, the scientific study of theology, and every difficulty vanishes. Whoever believes in himself believes in God, and whoever can stand poised on himself has in himself the very essence of religion. According to them, the great error of the past has been in supposing that religion consists in the recognition, the love, and the service of a superior power; but the merit of free religion is, that it emancipates mankind from this mother error, discards the notion that they owe obedience to any power above humanity, and teaches that man is subject only to himself. Hence the Emersonian maxim, Obey thyself, which, translated into plain English, is, Live is thou listest.

 The aim of the association, the president – whom we remember as a handsome, light-complexioned, bright-eyed school-boy- tells us in his opening address is Unity. He says:

            “Our aim, let it be understood, is unity; not division, discord, conflict – but unity. We are not controversialists. We carry no sword in our hands. We wear no weapons concealed about our person. Our one word is peace – the word which is always most heartily responded to by earnest men. Religion means unity; the very definition of it signifies the power that binds men together; that binds all souls to the divine. The communion of saints – that is the religious phrase; and yet you will pardon me if I say that religion at present is the one word that means division. As interpreted by the religious world, it means war and discord. Subjects are debated on other platforms- social questions, political questions; they are debated and dismissed. In the religious world the discussion goes on more persistently, more bitterly than on any other field; but the issues are always the same, the venue is never changed, conclusions are never reached, and we lack the benefit that comes from the reconciliation of perpetual discussion.

            “Religion as organized is organized division. The communion is a communion-table, the Christ is a symbol of the sects, the unity is a unity made up of separate departments and families. The ancient religions of the world still hold their own. Buddhism, Brahminism, the religion of Zoroaster, the religion of Confucius, Judaism, fetichism, Sabaism – all stand where they did. All gather in their population; all have their organized activities, as they ever had. No one of them has materially changed its front; not one of them has been disorganized; not one of them has retreated from the ground that from time immemorial it has occupied. They have stormed at each other, they have been mortal enemies; but still they stand where they stood. There is no superstition, however degrading, that does not exist today; and Christian missionaries, Catholic and Protestant, have gone out with hearts of flame and tongues of fire, and souls that were all one solid single piece of consecration, and have dashed themselves with hosts with the utmost heroism against those ancient lines of faith; and their weapons have dropped harmless at their foot. Here and there a few hundred, or a few thousand, or a few tens of hundreds or thousands, may have shifted from one faith to the other; but the solid substance of these great religions still endures. The vast aggregates of millions and tens of millions are unaffected. Christianity holds its own, and no more. Buddhism and Brahminism hold their own, and as much. What shall we say to this? Does religion mean unity? The world cannot be all of one form of religion. Religion is deeper than all its several forms. One religion cannot dislodge another; one faith cannot supplant another faith. Put Christianity in the place of Buddhism or Brahminism, and people would not be Christians. They might change their name – they would not change their nature. The inhabitants of countries who have been under the sway of those great faiths do not become Christian men by becoming Christian peoples. The Turks in European Turkey are better men than the Greek Christians in European Turkey. The religions, as such, must hold their places essentially undisturbed. Harmony is not possible at present on that ground – on any sectarian ground.

            “Christianity itself is a bundle of religions. There is the vast Greek Church, with its patriarchs; there is the enormous Catholic Church, with its pope; here are all the families of the Protestant Church, with their clergy. They hold the same relative position. Protestantism does not subdue Romanism; Romanism will never subdue Protestantism. The Protestant Church and the Roman Church have stood face to face for centuries; and thus they will continue to stand, as long as the populations have the genius that God gave them. What is Christendom but an army divided against herself? What is Protestantism but a mingling of warring sects? – each sect falling in pieces the moment it becomes organized for work. Unitarianism does not gain on Orthodoxy; Orthodoxy does not gain on Unitarianism. Each sect takes up the little portion that belongs to it, and must rest contented; and all the power of propagandism, of sectarian zeal, of fire and earnestness, does but cause the little flame to burn up more brightly for an instant on the local alter; and, when it dies down, the ashes remain on that altar still.

            “Our word, then, is Unity. But how shall we get it? Not by becoming Catholics; not by making another order of Protestants; not by instituting another sect; but by going down below all the sects – going down to faith. For faith, hope, aspiration, charity, love, worship, we believe, are inherent, indestructible elements of human nature.” (Pp. 7-9.)

            The rhetoric is not bad; but in what does the unity aimed at consist, and how is it to be obtained? Religion, by the speakers who addressed the association, is assumed to be a sentiment, and faith and hope and charity are, we are told, indestructible elements of human nature;            then since human nature is one, what unity can the free religionists aspire to that they and men have not already, or have not always had? Pass over this; whence and by what means is the unity, whatever it consists in, to be obtained? The answer to this question is not very definite, but it would seem the association expect it from below, not from above; for the president says, we are to obtain it only by “going down below all sects – going down to faith.” A Catholic would have said, We attain to unity only by rising above all sects, to a faith which is one and universal, and which the sects rend and divide among themselves. But the radicals have outgrown Catholicity, outgrown Christianity, and very properly look for faith and unity from below. But when they get down, down to the lowest deep, will they find them? What faith or unity will they find in the lowest depths of humanity in addition to what all men have always had? If, notwithstanding the unity of nature, sects and divisions prevail, and always have prevailed, how, with nothing above nature or in addition to it, do you expect to get rid of them, and establish practical unity, or to obtain the charity that springs from unity?

            The radicals deny that they are destructives, that they have only negations, or that they make war on any existing church, religion, sect, or denomination; they will pardon us, then, if we are unable to conceive what they mean by unity, or what unity, except the physical unity of nature, there is or can be among those who divide on every subject in which they feel any interest. Does the association propose to get rid of diversity by indifference, and of divisions simply by bringing all men to agree to differ? We certainly find only unity in denying among the individuals associated, who agree in nothing except that each one holds himself or herself alone responsible for his or her own personal views and utterances. Some of them would retain the Christian name, and others would reject it. Mr. Francis Ellingwood Abbott argues that it is not honest to hold on to the name after having rejected the thing. By professing to be a Christian a man binds himself to accept Christianity; and whoso accepts Christianity, binds himself to accept the Catholic church, which embodies and expresses it. We make an extract from his address:

            “As I look abroad in the community, I see two extreme types of religious faith. One is represented in the Roman Church, the great principle of authority. That church has been, and, I think, will always be, the grandest and the greatest embodiment of Christianity in social life. It is worthy of profound respect; and I, for one, yield it profound respect. It took an infidel, Auguste Comte, to portray fairly the service done to the world by the Christian Church- the great Catholic Church- of the middle ages; and we radicals are false to our principles, if we do not do homage to every thing that is great and good and serviceable in its season, although we think its day of usefulness may have passed. The fundamental principle of the Roman Church is authority, pure and simple. The theology of Rome carries that principle out to the extremest degree. Its hierarchy embodies it in an institution; and, from beginning to end, from centre to periphery, the Roman Catholic Church is consistent with itself in the development of that one idea in spiritual and social and ecclesiastical life.

            “At the other pole of human thought and experience, I see a very few persons- indeed, so few that I might, perhaps almost count them on the fingers of one hand- who plant themselves on the principle of liberty alone; who want nothing else; who stand without dogma, without creed, without priesthood, without Bible, without Christ, without any thing but the Almighty God working in their hearts. These two principles of authority and freedom have thus worked out for themselves, at last, consistent expression. Here are the two extremes- Romish Christianity and free religion; and between these two extremes we see a compromise, Protestant Christianity- the compromise between Catholicism and free religion. Every compromise is weak, because it contains conflicting elements. Protestant Christianity is like the image with head of gold and feet of clay. It cannot stand forever. Either Christianity, as embodied in the Roman Church, is right, or else free religion is right. Have we not learned yet to give up these combinations of opposites, contraries, and incompatibles? Has the war taught us nothing? Are we still trying to make some chimerical mixture, some impossible union of freedom and slavery? I trust not. For my own part, I stand pledged to liberty, pure and simple; and I have come to view all compromises alike, and cast them utterly away, whether they clothe themselves in the garments of Geneva, or in the last expression of Dr. Bellows and the Unitarian Church.” (Pp. 32-33.)

            Mr. Abbott is not quite exact in his phraseology, and does not state the Catholic principle correctly. The principle on which the church rests, and out of which grow all her doctrines and precepts, is not authority, but the mystery of the Incarnation, or the assumption of human nature by the Word. Nor is he himself quite honest according to his own test of honesty. To be consistent with himself, he must reject not only the term Christian, but also the term religion, and put the alternative, Either Catholicity or no religion. The word religion- from religare- means either intensively to bind more firmly, or iteratively, to bind again, to bind man morally to God as his last end, in addition to his being physically bound to God as his first cause. Free religion is a contradiction in terms, as much so as free bondage. Religion is always a bond, a law that binds.

            Ralph Waldo Emerson differs from Mr. Abbott, and would retain the name Christian, though without the reality. We quote a long passage from his not very remarkable speech, out of deference to his rank as one of the originators of the movement:

            “We have had, not long since, presented to us by Max Muller a valuable paragraph from St. Augustine, not at all extraordinary in itself, but only as coming from that eminent father in the church, and at that age in which St. Augustine writes: ‘That which is now called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist from the planting of the human race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already subsisted, began to be called Christianity.’ I believe that not only Christianity is as old as the creation- not only every sentiment and precept of Christianity can be paralleled in other religious writings- but more, that a man of religious susceptibility, and one at the same time conversant with many men- say a much-traveled man- can find the same idea in numberless conversations. The religious find religion wherever they associate. When I find in people narrow religion, I find also in them narrow reading.

            “I object, of course, to the claim of miraculous dispensation- certainly not to the doctrine of Christianity. This claim impairs, to my mind, the soundness of him who makes it, and indisposes us to his communion. This comes the wrong way; it comes from without, not within. This positive, historical, authoritative scheme is not consistent with our experience or our expectations. It is something not in nature, it is contrary to that law of nature which all wise men recognized, namely, never to require a larger cause than is necessary to the effect. George Fox, the Quaker, said that, though he read of Christ and God, he knew them only from the like spirit in his own soul. We ant all the aids to our moral training. We cannot spare the vision nor the virtue of the saints; but let it be by pure sympathy, not with any personal or official claim. If you are childish and exhibit your saint as a worker of wonders, a thaumaturgist, I am repelled. That claim takes his teachings out of logic and out of nature, and permits official and arbitrary senses to be grafted on the teachings. It is the praise of our New Testament that its teachings go to the honor and benefit of humanity- that no better lesson has been taught or incarnated. Let it stand, beautiful and wholesome, with whatever is most like it in the teaching and practice of men; but do not attempt to elevate it out of humanity by saying, ‘This was not a man,’ for then you confound it with the fables of every popular religion; and my distrust of the story makes me distrust the doctrine as soon as it differs from my own belief. Whoever thinks a story gains by the prodigious, by adding something out of nature, robs it more than he adds. It is no longer an example, a model; no longer a heart-stirring hero, but an exhibition, a wonder, an anomaly, removed out of the range of influence with thoughtful men.” (Pp. 42-44.)

            Mr. Emerson cannot be very deeply read in patristic literature, if he is obliged to go to Max Muller for a quotation from St. Augustine, and he proves by his deductions from the language of this great doctor and father that he knows little of the Catholic church. St. Augustine was a Catholic, and taught that, though times vary, faith does not vary, and that as believed the patriarchs so believe we, only they believed in the Christ who was to come, and we in the Christ who has come; and the church teaches through her doctors that there has been only one revelation, that this was made, in substance, to our first parents in the garden. She teaches us that Christianity is not only as old, but even older than creation; for creation with all it contains was created in reference to Christ the incarnate Word, and consequently Christianity, founded in the Incarnation, is really the supreme law according to which the universe was created and exists. It precedes all other religions, and the various heathen or pagan religions and mythologies are only traditions, corruptions, perversions, or travesties of it. To the question, “How is the church Catholic?” the very child’s catechism answers, “Because she subsists in all ages, teaches all nations, and maintains all truth.” How otherwise could she be Catholic?

            That “every sentiment [doctrine?] and precept of Christianity can be paralleled in other religious writings” (religions, for Christianity is not a writing) may be true in part, if taken separately and in an unchristian sense; but certainly not as a connected and self-consistent system, in its unity and integrity. But suppose it, what then? It would only prove that all religions have retained more or less of the primitive revelation, which all men held in common before the gentile apostasy and the dispersion of the race consequent on the attempt to build the Tower of Babel; not that all religions have had a common origin in human nature. What we actually find in pagan religions and mythologies that is like Christianity, is no more than we should expect on the supposition of a primitive revelation held out of unity, and interpreted by pride, folly, and ignorance, the characteristics of every pagan people. But Mr. Emerson is true to the old doctrine which he chanted years ago in The Dial:

            “Out from the heart of nature rolled

               The burdens of the Bible old;

                The litanies of nations came

                 Like the volcano’s tongue of flame

                 Up from the burning core below-

                  The canticles of love and woe.”

            Nothing can roll out of the heart of nature but nature itself; and hence, in order to derive Christianity from within, Mr. Emerson eliminates whatever is supernatural and external and reduces it to simple nature, which every man from the beginning to the end of the world carries within him, and of which he cannot divest himself. He unchristianizes Christianity, makes it an element of human nature, confounds it with the natural laws of the physicists, and then tells us it is as old as creation, which is about as much as telling us man is as old as- man, or nature is as old as- nature. Well may Mr. Emerson be called the Sage of Concord, and be listened to as an oracle.

            All the speakers, with three exceptions, seemed anxious to have it understood that the free religious association has some great affirmative truth which is destined to redeem and save the world. Colonel Higginson, the successor of Theodore Parker, tells us with great earnestness:

            “If this movement of ours means anything, it means not a little petty denial, not a little criticism, not a textual discussion, not a sum in addition or subtraction, like Bishop Colenso’s books, not a bit of historical analysis, like Strauss or Renan. These are trivial things; these do not touch people; these do not reach the universal heart. The universe needs an affirmation, not a denial; and the religious movement that has not for its centre the assertion of something, would be condemned already to degenerate into a sect by the time it had the misfortune to get fairly born.” (p. 58.)

            But the reverend colonel here affirms nothing not affirmed by Christianity, nor any thing more than belongs to all men. Natural religion is simply the natural law, the moral law, prescribed to every man through his reason by the end for which he is created, and is included in the Christian religion as essential to the Christian character. What the free religionist does is not to affirm any thing not universally insisted on by the Catholic church, but to deny all religion but universal natural religion; that is, he simply denies supernatural revelation, and the supernatural order, or that there is any reality broader than nature or above it. Free religion, as such, is, then, not affirmative, pure purely negative; the negation of all religions in so far as they assert the supernatural. The real thought and design of the men and women composing the association is to get rid of every thing in every religion that transcends or professes to transcend nature. They make no direct war on the church or even on the sects, we concede; for they take it for granted that when people are once fully persuaded that nature is all, and that only natural religion is or can be true, all else will gradually die out of itself.

            Mrs. Lucy Stone agrees in this with the others, and does not disguise her thought. She says:

            “We come into the world, I believe, every one of us, with all that is needful in ourselves, if we will only trust it- all that is needful to help us on and up to the very highest heights to which a human being can ever climb; but we have covered it over by dogma and creed and sectarian theory, and by our own misdeeds, until these angel voices that are in us cease to be heard; not totally cease- I do not believe they ever totally cease- but they become less and less audible to us. But if we learn to heed their faint whisper, reverently and obediently, I believe that there is no path where the soul asks you to go that you may not safely tread. It may carry you to the burning, fiery furnace, but you will come out, and the smell of fire even will not be on your garments. It may compel you into the lion’s den, but the wild beast’s mouth will be shut. You may walk where scorpions are in the way of duty, and you will not be hurt. It is this ‘inner light;’ it is not a text, it is not a creed, but it is this in ourselves which, if trusted, will lead us into all truth.

            “I said I did not believe this voice was ever lost in the human soul. I do not forget that men grow very wicked, and women too, for that matter; I do not forget that men and women sometimes appear to us so lost and fallen that it seems as if no power in themselves, or any human power, could help them up; and yet to these worst men and women, in some hallowed moment, is the word given, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.” And if, at the side of this man or woman, at that very moment, is some helping hand, some voice wise enough to counsel, he or she may be started to walk in that way.” (p. 100.)

            If Mr. Abbott is the logician of the association, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe is decidedly the wit. In the essay she read to the meeting, she, with her keen woman’s wit and her hard common sense, shows up in admirable style the ridiculousness and absurdity of the whole movement. She is not herself indeed free from all taint of radicalism, and much she says may be due to her facility in detecting and satirizing the follies and absurdities of her friends rather than those of her foes; but her essay proves that she has a soul, and knows that it has aspirations that go beyond nature, and wants which only a supernatural religion can satisfy. She evidently has glimpses of a truth higher, deeper, broader, than any recognized by any other radical who spoke. She disposes of free religion in a single sentence, “He is not religious who does not recognize the obligations of religion.” We have space only for the concluding paragraph of her not very logical, self-consistent, but witty, shrewd, and satirical essay on Freedom and Restraint in Religion:

            “But, friends, a sudden reaction comes over me. I determine to practice and profess the new religion. I have learned at the free religious club that I possess, the first requisite for this, having never studied any theology at all. The ex-divines whom I have met there have so bewailed the artificial ignorance which they acquired in their divinity- school training, that I presume my natural knowledge to be its proper and desired antithesis. I have read the Bhavadgheeta and Mr. Emerson’s poems, the psalms and gospel of the new faith. To be no Christian is the next important desideratum; and I believe that I shall find this, as most people do, easier than not. My first rule will be, ‘Brahmins, beware of intercourse with Pariahs!’ The three hundred incarnations of Vishnu, far more imposing in number than the single incarnation of which the old theology has made so much, shall be preached by me both as precept and example. The Confucian moralities, as illustrated by Californian experience, shall replace the Decalogue. Mr. Emerson’s crowning sentence, that he who commits a crime hurts himself, will, of course, suffice to covert a whole society of criminals and reprobates. I will introduce the Joss into prisons, and give the myth of the Celestial Empire a literal interpretation. Our railroad and steamboat system will greatly facilitate the offering of children to the river, with the further advantage of offering the parents too. The strangling of female infants will relieve the present excess of female population in New England, and postpone the pressure of women suffrage. The burning of widows alone will save the country no small outlay in pensions. Lastly, since the Turkish ethics are coming so much into favor, I should advise a more than Mormon application of them in our midst. Cooperative house-keeping could then be begun on the most immediate and harmonious footing. And so we will reconvert and retransform, and true progress shall consist in regress.

            “But, as Archimedes asked to get out of the world in order to move it, we shall be forced to go outside of Christendom in order to accomplish this revolution. And if I may believe my friends of the Free Religious Association, the surest way to do this will be to keep closely in their midst. For, elsewhere, between steamboats and missionaries, we cannot be sure of meeting people who shall be sure of not being Christian.

            “Perish the jest, and let the jester perish, if in aught but saddest earnest she exchanged the serious for the comic mask. Laughter is sometimes made to convey pathos that lies too deep for tears. I have but faintly sketched the scene-painting that would have to be done today. If religion could slip back and miss the sacred and indispensable mediation of Christianity. Take back the English language beyond the noble building of Shakespeare and Milton; take back philosophy beyond the labor of the Germans and the intuition of the Greeks; take back mathematics beyond Laplace and Newton; take back politics from the enlargement of republican experience – you will have yet a harder task when you shall carry religion back to its ante-Christian status and interpretation.

            “Lastly, and to sum up. The freedom of religion is the satisfaction of obeying the innermost and highest impulses of the human soul, to the disregard of all secondary powers and considerations. I find this freedom inseparable from the constraint which obliges the man toward this highest effort, as the laws of the tidal flow force the wave to high-water mark. Our human dignity consists in the assertion of this freedom, the acknowledgment of this obligation. Intellectual freedom is found in study and the progress of thought, which is ever substituting enlarged and improved for rude and narrow processes. But the liberal heart precedes the liberal mind, and conditions it. To be careless as to authority and rash in conclusions, is not to be free; to be strict in logic and scrupulous in derivation, is not to be unfree. Let me end my discursive remarks with one phrase from a dear, melancholy, Calvinistic poet, who passed his life in damning himself and blessing others, repenting a thousand sins he was never able to commit:

‘He is the freeman whom the truth makes free, and all are slaves beside.’” (Pp. 53-57.)

            A stranger, who gave his name as Gustave Watson, made a brief, modest, sensible speech, which fully refuted the radical pretensions. He told them that he had listened in vain to hear pronounced the great affirmative truth the speakers professed to have. An evangelical minister, a Rev. Jesse H. Jones, took up the defense of Christianity, but was too ignorant of the Christian faith, and too far gone himself in radicalism, to be able to effect much. He tool up the weakest line of defense possible, and labored chiefly to show the novelty of Christianity against St. Augustine, and its identity, under one of its aspects, with carnal Judaism or modern socialism. An orthodox Jew sent an essay and a liberal Jew spoke. A professor of Spiritism made a speech, and several radicals spoke whose speeches we are obliged to pass over, though as good as those we have noticed.

            We have refrained as far as possible from ridiculing the proceedings of the association, which is no association at all, since it is founded on the principle of free individualism; for we wish to treat all men and women with the respect due to ourselves, if not to themselves. The chief actors in the movement we have formerly known, and some of them intimately. We have no doubt of their sincerity and earnestness; but we must be permitted to say that we have found nothing new or striking in their speeches, and we cannot remember the time when we were not perfectly familiar with all their doctrines and pretensions. Their views and aims were set forth in the New England metropolis nearly forty years ago, if with less mental refinement and polish, with an originality and freshness, a force and energy, which they can hardly hope to rival. They were embodied in 1836, and attempted to be realized in the Society for Christian Union and Progress, which its founder abandoned because he would not suffer it to grow into a sect, because he saw his movement was leading nowhere, and could accomplish nothing for the glory of God or the good of mankind here or hereafter, and because, through the grace and mercy of God, he became convinced of the truth and sanctity of the Catholic church against which the Protestant reformers in the sixteenth century rebelled. He may not now be very proud of these radicals, but they are, to a great extent, the product of a movement of which he and Ralph Waldo Emerson were the earliest and principal leaders in Boston.

            We readily acknowledge that the pretensions of these radical men and women are very great, but they show no great intellectual ability, and are painfully narrow and superficial. The ministers and ex-ministers who figured on the occasion exhibited neither depth nor breadth of view, neither strength nor energy of mind. They proved themselves passable rhetoricians, but deplorably ignorant of the past and the present, of the religions they believed themselves to have outgrown, and especially of human nature and the wants of the human soul. They appeared to know only their own theories projected from themselves, and which are as frail and as attenuated as any spider’s web ever rendered visible by the morning dew. They pretend to have studied, and exhausted all the past systems, religions, and mythologies; they pride themselves on the universality of their knowledge, and their having lost all bigotry, intolerance, or severity toward any sect or denomination. They speak even patronizingly of the church, and are quite ready to concede that she was good and useful to humanity in her day, in barbarous times, and in the infancy of the race; but humanity, having attained its majority, has outgrown her, and demands now a more manly and robust, a purer and broader and more living and life-giving religion- a religion, in a word, more Christian than Christianity, more Catholic than Catholicity. Ignorant, or worse than ignorant, of the lowest elements of catholic teaching, they fancy they have outgrown it, as the adult man has outgrown the garments of his childhood. Their self-conceit is sublime. Why, they are not large enough to wear the fig-leaf aprons fabricated by the reformers of the sixteenth century with which to cover their nakedness. The tallest and stoutest among them is a dwarf by the side of Luther or a Calvin, or even of the stern old puritan founders of New England; nay, they cannot bear an intellectual comparison even with the originators of New England Unitarianism.

            Take the Reverend Colonel Higginson, a man of good birth and rich natural gifts, one who, if he had been trained in a Christian school, and had had his mind elevated and expanded by the study of Christian dogmas, could hardly have failed to be one of the great men, if not the greatest man, of his age. He has naturally true nobility of soul, rare intellectual power, and genius of a high order; yet he is so blinded, and so dwarfed in mind by his radicalism, that he can seriously say, “There is no affirmation except the belief in universal natural religion; all else is narrowness and sectarianism.” He has, then, no views broader than nature, no aspirations that rise higher than nature, and labor sunder the delusion that men, reduced to nature alone, would really be elevated and ennobled. He has never learned that nature is not self-sufficing- is dependent; that it has both its origin and end as well as its medium in the supernatural, and could not act or subsist a moment without it- a truth which the Catholic child has learned before a dozen years old, and which is a simple commonplace with the Christian; so much so, that he rarely thinks it necessary to assert it, far less to prove it.

            This utterance of the reverend colonel is accepted by all the radicals. None of them get above second causes; for them all God and nature appear to be identical and indistinguishable; and this appears to be their grand and all-reconciling doctrine. Hence the religion which they propose has no higher origin than man, and no higher end than the natural development and well being of man, individual and social, in this earthly life. It is the religion of humanity, not the religion of God, and man, not God, is obeyed and worshipped in it; yet it seems never to occur to these wise men and women that nature either separated from, or identified with God vanishes into nothing, and their religion with it. But is a religion that is simply evolved from humanity, that has no element above the human, and is necessarily restricted to man in this life, and that contemplates neither fore nor after, higher, deeper, and more universal than Christianity which asserts for us the nature and essence of God, teaches us the origin and end of all things, the real relations of man to his Maker and to universal nature through all the degrees and stages of his existence? No; it is you naturalism that is “narrowness and sectarianism.”

            Radicalism has heard of the mystery of the Incarnation, and interprets it to mean not the union of two forever distinct natures, the divine and human, in one divine person, but one divine nature in all human persons. Hence, while the person is human, circumscribed, and transitory, nature in all men is divine, is God himself, permanent, universal, infinite, immortal. This is what the Christian mystery, according to them, really means, though the ignorant, narrow-minded, and blundering apostles never knew it, never understood its profound significance. The church took the narrow and shallow view of the apostles; and hence our radicals have outgrown the church, and instead of looking back or without, above or beyond themselves, they look only within, down into their own divine nature, whence emanates the universe, and in which is all virtue, all good, all truth, all force, all reality. The aim of all moral and religious discipline must be to get rid of all personal distinction, all circumscription, and to sink all individuality in divine nature, which is the real man, the “one man,” “the over-soul” of which Mr. Emerson in his silvery tones formerly discoursed so eloquently and captivated so many charming Boston girls, who understood him by sympathy with their hearts, not their heads, though what he said seemed little better than transcendental nonsense to the elder, graver, and less susceptible of both sexes. Impersonal nature is divine; hence the less of persons we are the more divine we are, and the more we act from the promptings of impersonal nature the more god-like our acts. Hence instinct, which is impersonal, is a safer guide than reason, which is impersonal; the logic of the heart is preferable to the logic of the head, and fools and madmen superior to the wise and the sane. Hence are fools and madmen profoundly reverenced by Turks and Arabs.

            But impersonal nature is one and identical in all men, and identical, too, with the divine nature. There are no distinct, specific, or individual natures; there is only one nature in all men and things; for all individuality, all difference or distinction, is in the personality. Hence when you get rid of personality, which, after all, has no real subsistence, and sink back into impersonal nature, you attain at once to absolute unity, always and ever present under all the diversity of beliefs, views, or persons. Men and women are mere bubbles floating on the face of the ocean, and nothing distinguishes them from the ocean underlying them but their bubbleosity. Destroy that, and they are the ocean itself. Get rid of personality, sink back into impersonal nature, and all men and women become one, and identical in the one universal nature. Vulgar radicals and reformers seek to reform society by laboring to ameliorate the condition of men and women as persons, and are less profitably employed than the boy blowing soap-bubbles; for the reality is in the ocean on the face of which the bubble floats, not in the bubbleosity. The true radicals, who radicalize in satin slippers and kid gloves, seek not to ameliorate the bubbleosity which is unreal, an unveracity, a mere apparition, a sense-show, but to ameliorate man and society by sinking it, and all differences with it, in universal impersonal nature.

            Yet what amelioration is possible except personal? If you get rid of men and women as persons, you annihilate them in every sense in which they are distinguishable from the one universal nature; and suppose you succeed in doing it, your reform, your amelioration would be the annihilation of man and society; for you can have neither without men and women as individuals- that is, as persons. To reform or ameliorate them in their impersonal nature is both impossible and unnecessary; for in their impersonal nature they are identical with universal nature, and universal nature is God, infinite, immutable, incapable of being augmented or diminished. Nothing can be done for or against impersonal nature. We see, then, nothing that these refined and accomplished radicals can propose as the object of their labors but the making all men and women, as far as possible, talk and act like fools and madmen. This would seem to be their grand discovery, and the proof of their having outgrown the church.

            But we should be ourselves the fool and madman if we attempted to reason with them. They discard logic, reject reason, and count the understanding as one of the poorest of our faculties; as mean, narrow, personal. Reason and understanding are personal; and all truth, all knowledge, all wisdom, all that is real is impersonal. Is not the impersonality of God, that is, of nature, a primary article of their creed? How, then, reason with them or expect them to listen to the voice of reason? Reason is too straight for them, and they have outgrown it, as they have outgrown the church! They do not even pretend to be logically consistent with themselves. No one holds himself bound by his own utterances, any more than he does by the utterances of another. They are free religionists, and scorn to be bound even by the truth.

            But suppose they wish to retain men and women- or women and men, for with them woman is the superior- as persons, how do they expect by restricting, as they do, their knowledge to this life, and making their happiness consist in the goods of this life alone, to effect their individual amelioration? Socialism secures always its own defeat. The happiness of this life is attainable only by living for another. Restricted to this life and this world, man has play for only his animal instincts, propensities, and powers. There is no object on which his higher or peculiarly human affections and faculties can be exerted, and his moral, religious, rational nature must stagnate and rot, or render him unspeakably miserable by his hungering and thirsting after a spiritual good which he has not, and which is nowhere to be had. The happiness of this life comes from living for a supernatural end, the true end of man, in obedience to the law it prescribes. When we make this life or this world our end, or assume, with Mr. Emerson, that we have it within, in our own impersonal nature, we deny the very condition of either individual or social happiness, take falsehood for truth; and no good ever does or can come from falsehood.

            It will be observed by our readers, from the extracts we have made, that the radicals not only confine their views to humanity and to this life, but proceed on the assumption of the sufficiency of man’s nature for itself. They appear to have, with the exception of Mrs. Howe, no sense of the need of any supernatural help. They have no sense of the incompleteness and insufficiency of nature, as they have no compassion for its weakness. They never stumble, never fall, never sin, are never baffled, are never in need of assistance. It is not so with ordinary mortals. We find nature insufficient for us, our own strength inadequate; and, voyaging over the stormy ocean of life, we are often wrecked, and compelled to cry out in agony of soul, “Lord, save, or we perish.” Whoever has received any religious instruction knows that it is not in ourselves but in God that we live and move and have our being, and that not without supernatural assistance can we attain true beatitude.

            In conclusion, we may say, these radical men and women set forth nothing not familiar to us before the late Theodore Parker was an unfledged student of the Divinity school, Cambridge, and even before most of them were born. We know their views and aims better than they themselves know them, and we have lived long enough to learn that they are narrow and superficial, false and vain. We have in the church the freedom we sighed for but found not, and which is not to be found, in radicalism. God is more than man, more than nature, and never faileth; Christ the God-man, at once perfect God and perfect man, two distinct natures in one divine person, is the way, the truth, and the life; and out of him there is no salvation, no true life, no beatitude. We do not expect these radicals to believe us; they are worshippers of man and nature, and joined to their idols. Esteeming themselves wise, they become fools; ever learning, they are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, any more than the child is able to grasp the rainbow.