We have left ourselves no room to speak of the best part of M. Renan’s new volume, his historical comment on the first period of Christianity. We do not pretend to go along with him in his general principles of judgment, or in many of his most important historical conclusions. But here he is, what he is not in the early chapters, on ground where his critical faculty comes fairly into play. He is, we think, continually paradoxical and reckless in his statements; and his book is more thickly strewn than almost any we know with half-truths, broad axioms which require much paring down to be of any use, but which are made by him to do duty for want of something stronger. But, from so keen and so deeply interested a writer, it is our own fault if we do not learn a good deal. And we may study in its full development that curious combination, of which M. Renan is the most conspicuous example, of profound veneration for Christianity and sympathy with its most characteristic aspects, with the scientific impulse to destroy in the public mind the belief in its truth.
M. RENAN’S HIBBERT LECTURES
Guardian, 14th April 1880.
The object of M. Renan’s lectures at St. George’s Hall is, as we understand him, not merely to present a historical sketch of the influence of Rome on the early Church, but to reconcile the historical imagination with the results of his own and kindred speculations on the origin of Christianity. He has, with a good faith which we do not question, investigated the subject and formed his conclusions upon it. He on the present occasion assumes these investigations, and that he, at any rate, is satisfied with their result. He hardly pretends to carry the mixed popular audience whom he addresses into any real inquiry into the grounds on which he has satisfied himself that the received account of Christianity is not the true one. But he is aware that all minds are more or less consciously impressed with the broad difficulty that, after all attempts to trace the origin of Christianity to agencies and influences of well-understood human character, the disproportion between causes and effects still continues to appear excessive. The great Christian tradition with its definite beliefs about the conditions of man’s existence, which has shaped the fortunes and determined the future of mankind on earth, is in possession of the world as much as the great tradition of right and wrong, or of the family, or of the State. How did it get there? It is most astonishing that it should have done so, what is the account of it? Of course people may inquire into this question as they may inquire into the basis of morality, or the origin of the family or the State. But here, as on those subjects, reason, and that imagination which is one of the forces of reason, by making the mind duly sensible of the