An Outline of the History of Christian Thought Since Kant eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 317 pages of information about An Outline of the History of Christian Thought Since Kant.

Seven of Emerson’s ancestors were ministers of New England churches.  He inherited qualities of self-reliance, love of liberty, strenuous virtue, sincerity, sobriety and fearless loyalty to ideals.  The form of his ideals was modified by the glow of transcendentalism which passed over parts of New England in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, but the spirit in which Emerson conceived the laws of life, reverenced them and lived them, was the Puritan spirit, only elevated, enlarged and beautified by the poetic temperament.  Taking his degree from Harvard in 1821, despising school teaching, stirred by the passion for spiritual leadership, the ministry seemed to offer the fairest field for its satisfaction.  In 1825 he entered the Divinity School in Harvard to prepare himself for the Unitarian ministry.  In 1829 he became associate minister of the Second Unitarian Church in Boston.  He arrived at the conviction that the Lord’s Supper was not intended by Jesus to be a permanent sacrament.  He found his congregation, not unnaturally, reluctant to agree with him.  He therefore retired from the pastoral office.  He was always a preacher, though of a singular order.  His task was to befriend and guide the inner life of man.  The influences of this period in his life have been enumerated as the liberating philosophy of Coleridge, the mystical vision of Swedenborg, the intimate poetry of Wordsworth, the stimulating essays of Carlyle.  His address before the graduating class of the Divinity School at Cambridge in 1838 was an impassioned protest against what he called the defects of historical Christianity, its undue reliance upon the personal authority of Jesus, its failure to explore the moral nature of man.  He made a daring plea for absolute self-reliance and new inspiration in religion:  ’In the soul let redemption be sought.  Refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men.  Cast conformity behind you.  Acquaint men at first hand with deity.’  He never could have been the power he was by the force of his negations.  His power lay in the wealth, the variety, the beauty and insight with which he set forth the positive side of his doctrine of the greatness of man, of the presence of God in man, of the divineness of life, of God’s judgment and mercy in the order of the world.  One sees both the power and the limitation of Emerson’s religious teaching.  At the root of it lay a real philosophy.  He could not philosophise.  He was always passing from the principle to its application.  He could not systematise.  He speaks of his ’formidable tendency to the lapidary style.’  Granting that one finds his philosophy in fragments, just as one finds his interpretation of religion in flashes of marvellous insight, both are worth searching for, and either, in Coleridge’s phrase, finds us, whether we search for it or not.


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An Outline of the History of Christian Thought Since Kant from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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