Occasional Papers eBook

Richard William Church
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 447 pages of information about Occasional Papers.
magnitude of ideas and alternatives, are exacting.  M. Renan’s task is to make the purely human origin of Christianity, its origin in the circumstances, the beliefs, the ideas, and the moral and political conditions of the first centuries, seem to us natural—­as natural in the history of the world as other great and surprising events and changes—­as natural as the growth and the fall of the Roman Empire, or as the Reformation, or the French Revolution.  He is well qualified to sound the depths of his undertaking and to meet its heavy exigencies.  With a fuller knowledge of books, and a closer familiarity than most men with the thoughts and the events of the early ages, with a serious value for the idea of religion as such, and certainly with no feeble powers of recalling the past and investing it with colour and life, he has to show how these things can be—­how a religion with such attributes as he freely ascribes to the Gospel, so grand, so pure, so lasting, can have sprung up not merely in but from a most corrupt and immoral time, and can have its root in the most portentous and impossible of falsehoods.  It must be said to be a bold undertaking.

M. Renan has always aimed at doing justice to what he assailed; Christians, who realise what they believe, will say that he patronises their religion, and naturally they resent such patronage.  Such candour adds doubtless to the literary effect of his method; but it is only due to him to acknowledge the fairness of his admissions.  He starts with the declaration that there never was a nobler moment in human history than the beginnings of the Christian Church.  It was the “most heroic episode in the annals of mankind.”  “Never did man draw forth from his bosom more devotion, more love of the ideal, than in the 150 years which elapsed between the sweet Galilean vision and the death of Marcus Aurelius.”  It was not only that the saints were admirable and beautiful in their lives; they had the secret of the future, and laid down the lines on which the goodness and hope of the coming world were to move.”  Never was the religious conscience more eminently creative, never did it lay down with more authority the law of future ages.”

Now, if this is not mere rhetoric, what does it come to?  It means not merely that there was here a phenomenon, not only extraordinary but unique, in the development of human character, but that here was created or evolved what was to guide and form the religious ideas of mankind; here were the springs of what has reached through all the ages of expanding humanity to our own days, of what is best and truest and deepest and holiest.  M. Renan, at any rate, does not think this an illusion of Christian prepossessions, a fancy picture of a mythic age of gold, of an unhistorical period of pure and primitive antiquity.  Put this view of things by the side of any of the records or the literature of the time remaining to us; if not St. Paul’s Epistles nor Tacitus nor Lucian,

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Occasional Papers from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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