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Occasional Papers eBook

Richard William Church
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 378 pages of information about Occasional Papers.

In his recent volume, Les Apotres, M. Renan has undertaken two tasks of very unequal difficulty.  He accounts for the origin of the Christian belief and religion, and he writes the history of its first propagation.  These are very different things, and to do one of them is by no means to do the other.  M. Renan’s historical sketch of the first steps of the Christian movement is, whatever we may think of its completeness and soundness, a survey of characters and facts, based on our ordinary experience of the ways in which men act and are influenced.  Of course it opens questions and provokes dissent at every turn; but, after all, the history of a religion once introduced into the world is the history of the men who give it shape and preach it, who accept or oppose it.  The spread and development of all religions have certain broad features in common, which admit of philosophical treatment simply as phenomena, and receive light from being compared with parallel examples of the same kind; and whether a man’s historical estimate is right, and his picture accurate and true, depends on his knowledge of the facts, and his power to understand them and to make them understood.  No one can dispute M. Renan’s qualifications for being the historian of a religious movement.  The study of religion as a phenomenon of human nature and activity has paramount attractions for him.  His interest in it has furnished him with ample and varied materials for comparison and generalisation.  He is a scholar and a man of learning, quick and wide in his sympathies, and he commands attention by the singular charm of his graceful and lucid style.  When, therefore, he undertakes to relate how, as a matter of fact, the Christian Church grew up amid the circumstances of its first appearance, he has simply to tell the story of the progress of a religious cause; and this is a comparatively light task for him.  But he also lays before us what he appears to consider an adequate account of the origin of the Christian belief.  The Christian belief, it must be remembered, means, not merely the belief that there was such a person as he has described in his former, volume, but the belief that one who was crucified rose again from the dead, and lives for evermore above.  It is in this belief that the Christian religion had its beginning; there is no connecting Christ and Christianity, except through the Resurrection.  The origin, therefore, of the belief in the Resurrection, in the shape in which we have it, lies across M. Renan’s path to account for; and neither the picture which he has drawn in his former volume, nor the history which he follows out in this, dispense him from the necessity of facing this essential and paramount element in the problem which he has to solve.  He attempts to deal with this, the knot of the great question.  But his attempt seems to us to disclose a more extraordinary insensibility to the real demands of the case, and to what we cannot help calling the pitiable inadequacy of his own explanation, than we could have conceived possible in so keen and practised a mind.

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