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.
that day and to their interest in religion, that such a movement could have arisen largely among laymen who were often men of rank.  It is an honour to the English race that, in the period of the rising might of the rational spirit throughout the western world, men should have sought at once to utilise that force for the restatement of religion.  Yet one may say quite simply that this undertaking of the deists was premature.  The time was not ripe for the endeavour.  The rationalist movement itself needed greater breadth and deeper understanding of itself.  Above all, it needed the salutary correction of opposing principles before it could avail for this delicate and difficult task.  Religion is the most conservative of human interests.  Rationalism would be successful in establishing a new interpretation of religion only after it had been successful in many other fields.  The arguments of the deists were never successfully refuted.  On the contrary, the striking thing is that their opponents, the militant divines and writings of numberless volumes of ’Evidences for Christianity,’ had come to the same rational basis with the deists.  They referred even the most subtle questions to the pure reason, as no one now would do.  The deistical movement was not really defeated.  It largely compelled its opponents to adopt its methods.  It left a deposit which is more nearly rated at its worth at the present than it was in its own time.  But it ceased to command confidence, or even interest.  Samuel Johnson said, as to the publication of Bolingbroke’s work by his executor, three years after the author’s death:  ’It was a rusty old blunderbuss, which he need not have been afraid to discharge himself, instead of leaving a half-crown to a Scotchman to let it off after his death.’

It is a great mistake, however, in describing the influence of rationalism upon Christian thought to deal mainly with deism.  English deism made itself felt in France, as one may see in the case of Voltaire.  Kant was at one time deeply moved by some English writers who would be assigned to this class.  In a sense Kant showed traces of the deistical view to the last.  The centre of the rationalistic movement had, however, long since passed from England to the Continent.  The religious problem was no longer its central problem.  We quite fail to appreciate what the nineteenth century owes to the eighteenth and to the rationalist movement in general, unless we view this latter in a far greater way.


In 1784 Kant wrote a tractate entitled, Was ist Aufklaerung? He said:  ’Aufklaerung is the advance of man beyond the stage of voluntary immaturity.  By immaturity is meant a man’s inability to use his understanding except under the guidance of another.  The immaturity is voluntary when the cause is not want of intelligence but of resolution. Sapere aude! “Dare to use thine own understanding,”

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