« PreviousContinue »
REVIEWS. ESSAYS ON MODERN RELIGIOUS Thought. No. I. Ritualism, Ecclesi
astical and Revealed ; No. II. Confession and Absolution. London:
Longmans, Green, and Co. THESE essays form an interesting contribution to the literature of the ritualistic question. Though published anonymously, and written with great freedom from the technicalities of religious sect or party, readers of the Repository will at once recognise their thoroughly New Church character. Indeed we violate no confidence in stating that they are the works of two of our most experienced and respected ministers. They appear very opportunely. The truths of the New Dispensation, as every student of Swedenborg well knows, afford a key to most, if not all, of the problems now agitating the world. To apply them to the solution of these problems, therefore, is the duty of all who can discern their eminently practical utility. Our church has a great work to perform in this respect, and these essays should be especially welcomed as conscientious and worthy efforts to acknowledge and fulfil its responsibilities.
Neither author has spared labour to make his work as complete as its size would permit. In each instance we have an interesting and comprehensive summary of the history of the subject under consideration; which, though necessarily brief, is evidently the result of patient research, in the remote fields of patristic theology and the chronicles of the early church. Ecclesiastical Ritualism is thus traced to the desire of the primitive Christians to render their faith attractive in the eyes of a world “long accustomed to associate with religion, altars, sacrifices, and priests.” “Christianity,” we are reminded, “ being designed to interest the inner life of men by its holy teachings, rather than to strike their outer senses by the performance of a rite, stood out with singular relief against all the religious practices of the world. Its very simplicity created a resistance. The people cared more to gratify their senses than to improve their minds. . . It therefore became a subject of serious consideration among some of the bishops of early Christianity, whether some ceremonies might not be devised, and advantageously introduced into the public worship of the church. The result was that, from time to time, several rites were instituted, and associated with Christian worship—rites, however, which had no authority from the teachings of the Lord, nor any examples from the observances of His apostles.” Thus the practice of high ritual by Christians at the present day is clearly shown to be a relic of Pagan and Jewish observances—a perpetuation of customs which began in an impolitic pandering to an external and debased condition of mind. Its promoters, it is declared, “ seem to overlook the natural antagonism which exists between the artificial forms of religion and that real spiritual learning which Jesus has bequeathed for the acceptance of the world ; and, also, that they are endeavouring to establish, in one of the most brilliant periods of our history, a mode of public worship which was only invented for, and accepted by, one of the dimmest eras of the Christian church.”
There is an interesting chapter on the legal aspects of Ritualism. Every Englishman has an undoubted right to think as he pleases, and to celebrate his worship in any manner he deems most consistent with seemliness and order. This right, however, is necessarily modified by the circumstances of the Establishment.
"A church which claims to be national, and which, as such, has been created by national law, does not leave its ministers in freedom to do in the name of the nation that which the nation never sanctioned. The clergy of the Establishment having had conferred upon them certain political privileges, withheld from Nonconforming ministers, cannot be permitted to make use of those privileges to bring back to the nation those views of religion which the Reformation rejected, and to which rejection the Established Church owes its political status." Hence " the form which the Ritualistic controversy has taken within the church is not religious, but legal ; not Scriptural, but ecclesiastical: neither party go to the New Testament to support their views. Both rest their respective cases on different interpretations of certain statements (in connection with certain presumed meanings of the legislature), which crept into the Liturgy during the troublous times in which it was composed. The Liturgy is an Act of Parliament.”
How the facts here expressed are likely to affect the continued existence of the Establishment, is a very significant question. The union between church and state has evidently been necessary in the past. Without it, it is difficult to see how even the form of religion could have been preserved ; or how education and many minor works of civilisation and refinement could have been at all maintained. Now, however, signs are not wanting that the alliance so long permitted by an over-ruling Providence for the accomplishment of ends otherwise unattainable, will eventually give place to arrangements more in accordance with the increasing voluntaryism of the age, and in themselves intrinsically better and more true. Certainly the fact that any church can be shaken to its centre by a controversy whose form is “not religious, but legal, not Scriptural, but ecclesiastical,” must suggest that the element in its constitution which thus degrades its view of questions affecting its vital principles, is inherently mischievous and base.
The defence sometimes set up on behalf of ritualism, that it is sanctioned by the ceremonies divinely instituted among the Jews, receives a complete refutation. The ritualism of that people is exhibited as an accommodation of religion to their gross sensual state. It is shown that such worship was not originated by God at all.
“Although a ritualistic worship was instituted among the Jews, it is to be remembered that it did not originate at that time, and also that the idea of such worship could not have been a new thing to them. That, then, which the Lord did in reference to the Jewish ritual was not to originate that mode of worship, but to regulate and reduce to order, for a specific use, some of the ritualistic observances which had been extant among the nations.” That “specific use” is explained to have been not alone the establishment among the Jews of a church, or representative of a church, adapted to their low condition, but also the symbolism of those essentials of all true religion, without which no genuine worship can exist.. Thus the essay contains many valuable and suggestive allusions to the truths of Correspondence. It is shown that the Scriptural details of rituals are still and for ever, spiritually, of essential authority in the church, although, as literal ordinances, the rituals themselves have passed away. In fact, as might be expected from the source whence it emanates, this essay treats of ritualism from a point of view altogether higher and deeper than that from which it is usually regarded. Swedenborg strikingly observes (D.L.W., 46.)—“Thought from the eyes shuts the understanding; but thought from the understanding opens the eye.” The whole essay is an exemplification of this truth, and as such would be of incalculable benefit to both parties in the present most external controversy.
Much of what has been said of the essay on ritualism will apply to that on confession and absolution, by which it was followed. The author proves, by the evidence of the early fathers, that these practices in their present form were unknown in the first ages of the church. Auricular confession, as now employed by Romanists, was not instituted until the Fourth General Lateran Council, in 1215. Similarly, we read concerning absolution
“By many theological writers it is contended that down to the twelfth century the form was deprecatory, the words used being, “May God,' or · May Christ absolve thee,' &c.; it is since this period that the present formula, 'Ego absolvo te a peccatis tuis,' accompanied by the sign of the cross, has been introduced.” Neither practice, therefore, can claim the sanction of high antiquity; both were invented—or, rather, were produced—by the perversion of
doctrines, in themselves good and true, in corrupt ages of the church, and as instruments of priestly tyranny.
The moral influence of the confessional, both on the clergy and laity; receives due attention, and its abuses are vigorously and unsparingly exposed. The most valuable part of the essay, however, is its examination of the rationale of confession and absolution. The absurdity of the Romish claim to infallibility and the power of the keys,-on which the validity of these practices evidently depends is proved with resistless eloquence and logic. The Catholic Church trace their possession of these prerogatives to Peter. But did he enjoy them? Was he infallible ? And as regards his charge of the keys of heaven, " the Lord declares that it is Himself alone • Who hath the key of David, who openeth and no one shutteth, and shutteth and no one openeth.' (Rev. iii. 7.) But how could this be true if the Lord had transferred this power to His Apostle ? Two objections, then, lie against this dogma of Romanism, both of them fatal to its authenticity : first, that, supposing Peter to have possessed the infallibility asserted, not the most remote intimation of its being transmissible is to be found ; and, secondly, from the absence of it in Peter, which has been demonstrated, it is certain that he could not transmit to others what he was destitute of himself:”
While thus demolishing the false pretensions founded on the Saviour's charge to Peter, the author is careful to supply the true explanation. This, of course, involves a disquisition on the representative characters of the apostles, the real constituents of the church, the heaven and earth of the soul, and remission and retention of sins. Thus, this essay, like the former, abounds in illustrations of the spiritual sense of the Word, and of the pure doctrines of the New Dispensation.
Though handsomely printed, and containing each 112 octavo pages, they are published at a very moderate price. They are especially adapted for distribution among educated and liberal members of other sections of the church. To ensure the continuance of the series, it is necessary that the instalment already published should be well circulated. Believing that the appearance of similar essays by ministers of the New Church, on other leading subjects of modern religious thought, would materially contribute to the advancement of rational and spiritual religion, we unhesitatingly commend the two already issued to the support of our readers.
D. P. J.
OUR CHILDREN IN HEAVEN. By W. H. HALOOMBE, M.D. Phila
delphia (U.S.): Lippencott & Co. London: Trubner & Co., 60,
Paternoster Row. WRITTEN by a bereaved father, and dedicated to those who have been bereaved of their children,” this book is well adapted to accomplish the purpose for which it was written,—to console and elevate the minds of those who, like Rachel, are weeping for their children, and refuse to be comforted. It is a book of experience. It touchingly describes the author's feelings on the event which led to the composition of the work before us the death of little Lucy.
In the silent chamber " he sat thinking over the incidents of his little sweet girl's short, sweet, beautiful life. The kaleidoscope of memory turned and turned, and many charming pictures rose up before him. He saw her baby face, round and rosy, nestling sweetly against her mother's breast. Then her first tottering expeditions from chair to chair, watched and applauded by all the family. She was now romping over the floor with shaggy little Fido ; now rocking her doll, half as big as herself, with sober mother's face and earnest caressings. Suddenly she kissed her hand from the carriage, driving by, smartly dressed and curled for the afternoon airing. Now he watches her serious brow poring over the pictures of the primer; then he hears her first wandering delicate touches at the piano, or the tremulous sweetness of her voice saying the Lord's prayer. He gazes long at her fairy figure sporting on the green grass under the old whispering trees, glancing to and fro like a sunbeam in their quiet shadows. These and many other sacred pictures of child-life passed closely before him, touching and melting his innermost heart like the softest wails of cathedral music, stirring the divine despairs of the soul ; and he wept bitterly."
After going step by step, with fearful torturing minuteness of detail, over all the incidents of her last terrible illness, “then came the realisation of the fact that the object of all this idolatry was gone for ever from the natural world. Gone for ever; invisible, inaccessible, seeming to have been annihilated.”
Then comes the question—“Is my child really still alive, in the face of all this apparent death ? Has she the same spiritual vitality as she had a few days ago ? or is she asleep, every faculty being dormant until a resurrection in some far future? These and kindred questions pressed for solution on his heart. Suddenly his eyes fell on the family Bible, which little Lucy had often put on his knees, begging him to read of little Moses floating among the rushes, or of little