V. LETTER, 5
January 2, 1861
and refreshing words! They fall on the ear as sweet music. We
at once fancy all men united in the bonds of the same faith, and
the realize to ourselves a state of society akin to what we read
of the first Christians, who had but one "heart and one soul":
But the jarring sounds of religious disputation soon dispel the
fond illusion; the sweet dream vanishes away; we find ourselves
once more with stern reality staring us in the face, and our disappointment
becomes extreme, on perceiving that the beautiful words are but
a sham, a cloak under the folds of which every error is afforded
in our Schools. Admirable! Capital! Only, gentle reader, that
there is in this a small difficulty, to begot over, an enigma
to be solved, which I fear will tax your ingenuity to no inconsiderable
degree. For, how, allow me to ask, shall we be able to draw with
sufficient precision, a line of demarcation between those doctrines,
which belong with certainty to that general Christianity, and
those which do not? For instance, in what category should we place
the doctrines of the Blessed Trinity, of the Divinity of Jesus
Christ, and of the Incarnation? Let us be plain and sincere and
call things by their name. That general Christianity is in sober
truth, nothing more than a word without meaning; it may dazzle
the ignorant, and throw dust into the eyes of the unreflecting;
but it represents no fact, no reality, which an inquisitive mind
could apprehend. It is a mere abstraction, a pure fiction, a bright
phantom which becomes evanescent, the moment you stretch out your
hand to catch it.
let me tell those who, on reading this, may feel inclined to quarrel
with me, for what they may think my uncalled for onslaught on
their cherished dreams of a common Christianity, that it does
more credit to their hearts than to their heads; it shows them
to be peacefully disposed citizens indeed who will not put the
world in a blaze, but withal, Christians not very strongly grounded
in their faith, persuasion, opinion, or whatever that may be,
which makes one belong to one church rather than the other, or
to no church at all. It shows them to be little conversant with
the essential features of Christianity, which are, unity in the
principle, union in the parts, harmony in the whole, and to know
very little of the analogy of the faith, by which each truth is
so linked with all the others, that you cannot remove the least
-if least there be- without destroying the order of the whole,
without endangering the safety of the entire fabric, and without
exposing yourself to be led from negation to negation into a general-known
nothingism" and universal negation; an extreme consequence,
which some only avoid; by a fortunate inconsistency.
I know that
most of the advocates of general or common Christianity instinctively
shudder at the mention of unity. They well see the necessity of
it; but they fear the restrictions under which they fancy unity
of faith would place them in other matters, and they fear they
may have to surrender their cherished intellectual independency.
It may tend to allay their groundless fears to know, in the first
place, that although Truth be the mother of Unity, Freedom is
also the offspring of Truth, according to the words of our Blessed
Savior to the Jews. "And you shall know the truth, and the
truth shall make you Free. "(John VIII, 32) (...)
remarkable words, I may add as an argument ad hominem that the
very yearnings after real unity, from which those clumsy attempts
at the union of all sects under a common Christianity most undoubtedly
spring, although they do so in a silent, unobserved and even unfelt
manner, prove more than anything else could do, that man can find
no rest, no repose, except in the bosom of the Unity of Truth.
Unity, if it be anything more than a vain word, must be positive,
not negative. But man, warped by early-imbibed prejudices, misled
by false lights and opinions, seeks unity where it is not and
cannot be, and through moans which cannot promote it. The gentle-hearted
Protestant thinks that by the sacrifice of one truth or so, he
paves the way to unity, not seeing that what he gets thereby is,
no unity at all, but a disgraceful compromise between truth and
error, which opens an abyss underneath his feet. Unity is no where
but in the plenitude of Truth. But man's aspirations after truth
are so cogent, so positively irresistible, that, when he does
not seek for it where it is, he must needs seek for it, with an
ardor worthy of a better cause, in quarters where it is not. Hence,
in the social order, centralization which absorbs the individual
and the family in the unity of the state; communism which tends
to absorb private property in an unnatural common properly. Hence
in the political order; the sacrifice of nationalities to schemes
of impossible political unity. Hence in religion, the notion of
a no less impossible common Christianity; with the corollary in
education, of Common Mixed Schools.
It was with
feelings of the greatest surprise, that having, some time ago,
chanced to cast a glance at a "Report of a meeting of the
Colombo Auxiliary Bible Society," I read the following statement.
* * * said it was for him a matter of extreme gratification to
notice, that no distinction of religious creeds had prevented
us from uniting to diffuse as widely as possible, the Bible, God's
own book: he rejoiced to see persons of all religious creeds pressing
forwards in the name of our Common Christianity."
reader, accustomed as he is to such phraseology, cannot imagine
how startling it was to me. What, I asked myself, can that Common
Christianity be, which allows of a distinction, not merely of
opinions, but of creeds too? And how can people whose faith is
not the same - for such is the import of the word distinction
- unite in a Common Christianity, that is, in a common faith?
Is it that what Mr. * * * calls distinct religious creeds,"
is no more than the minor differences of which the Revd Mr. *
* * * spoke in the same meeting? Distinction, difference, almost
the same. But then, it were scarcely worthwhile to keep up different
churches, to have any separation, division, distinction, difference.
If the points of disagreement are minor, why should you divide
at all? If they are material, how can you coalesce into anything
deserving the epithet of common?
In the 26th
Report of the Jaffna Auxiliary Bible Society, Rev. Mr. Pargiter
no divisions amongst us, though there may be diversities of operations.
We all belong to the one Church - the Church of Christ - and acknowledge
one standard of faith, doctrine and practice, the infallible Word
of God, the Bible, around which we rally, and the truths of which
we proclaim as essential to man's salvation.'
is short. If you have only one standard of faith, and if that
standard be a standard at all, how is it that your faith is not
the same everywhere; that it varies, that it differs, that it
is contradictory in many essential points? For, not only are your
operations diversified, but your very doctrines differ. Not to
go out of the Church of England, some of its adherents behave
in baptismal regeneration, and some do not; some believe in the
inspiration of the Bible, and some do not ; and, as truly said,
the " No's" have it, notwithstanding Convocation and
the 8,000 protesting Clergymen," as plainly shown by the
12 editions of Essays and Reviews.' Indeed, the catalogue of your
doctrinal variations and varieties would fill volumes. What a
many-colored prism your standard must then practically be!
indeed, is infallible; but how fallible your Bible expounders
Without going the length of the modern Essayists and Reviewers,
who does not see that the Bible is no infallible guide to me,
unless in as far as it is infallibly expounded to me; that, as
all written documents, it requires a living authority to interpret
it; that, otherwise, it is no more than a dead letter; that, the
famous principle, the 'Bible alone', whilst untenable in practice,
would admit in theory the AYE and the No - Truth and Error, to
equal claims? And how does not my Revd friend see, that if acted
upon, it must lead to his admitting in his one Church, not only
the Socinian who denies the Divinity of Christ, the Unitarian
who denies the Trinity; but also, proh dolor! the very Romanist?
I asked myself many more things besides, especially with reference
to that Bible which could not be diffused, without a sacrifice
of those distinct creeds, which if creeds at all, must needs have
their foundation in the Bible. (. . .)
to say a word or two more, about that general or common Christianity,
to which I own, I owe a grudge, because I am afraid, when I hear
it so much spoken of, so much cried up, that it may end by depriving
us of the reality of true and saving Christianity; and that, not
unlike the animal in the fable, which let drop the meat in his
mouth to catch the shadow of it in the water, our society may,
at last, preserve nothing more of Christianity than an empty shadow.
Tell me, my dear sir, are we really earnest about Christianity?
I mean Christianity, as a body of sublime truths to be believed,
and as a code of strict moral duties to be performed?
Is it anything
else for us than some venerable antiquity, or a social conventionality?
In speculation, we admire it; its poetical side speaks to our
imagination; it has something grand, majestic; and thus far; it
commands our respect; in our social habits, we put it on, a consequence
of old habits; but practically do we believe? Has it lost nothing
of its hold on our hearts, and of its blessed influence on our
lives?(...) Believe me, etc.
versus Common Mixed School, Rev. Ch. Bonjean O.M.I. Examiner
Press, Colombo, 1861, pp. 29-34)