PHILOSOPHICAL INFLUENCES IN THE MODERN CHURCH: A. D. 1517—A. D. 1860.
§ 1. Philosophy of the Reformers.
We have arrived now, in our rapid survey, at the age of the Reformation, and shall throw into one period the whole time since 1517 down to the present, in continuing this account of the influence of the two cognate philosophical systems of Plato and Aristotle, upon Christian theology.
The Reformers were Platonico-Aristotelian, so far as they employed any system of human speculation. In this age we find the basis reversed from what it was during the Systematic period, and perceive the same general order and proportion of the two elements, that we saw in the Polemic period. The theological mind once more proceeds from the contemplative and practical side of the Grecian theism, as its point of departure, but in its controversies, especially, employs its logic and analysis. Luther's mission and function was a practical rather than a scientific one, and we do not find his mind strongly interested in any portion of human science. The abuse of philosophy, and particularly of the Aristotelian, by the Scotuses, the Occams, and the Biels, and still more the employment of it in the defence of the formalism and ungodliness of the Papacy, excited in his mind such a strong aversion to Aristotle, that he is said, with exaggeration probably, to have trembled with rage at the sound of "his name, and to have affirmed that if the Greek had not been a man, he should have taken him to be the devil himself. But the deep and real sentiment of Luther, in regard to philosophy, as well as in regard to revelation itself, must be derived from a comparison of all his views and statements, and not from some particular sentiments expressed in certain connections, and drawn out by the polemic temper of the moment. If certain isolated expressions are to be taken as the exponent of his ulterior opinions respecting the authority of Scripture, the modern rationalist, who insists upon subjecting the inspired Canon to the tests of an individual opinion, really is, as he claims to be, a lineal descendant of that bold spirit who threw the Epistle of James out of the Canon, and spake violently against the Apocalypse.
But this is not a correct view. As Luther did undoubtedly, in his inmost soul, completely submit his reason to that divine revelation, whose normal authority over the Church and tradition, he was such a mighty instrument of restoring; so in his sober judgment he did recognize the importance of a true and proper science of theology, and of a true and proper science of the human mind, to he employed in building it up out of the matter of revelation. Even in reference to Scholasticism itself, he remarks in a letter to Staupitz, "I read the Scholastics with judgment, not with closed eyes. I do not reject everything they have advanced, neither do I approve of everything."1
Calvin and Melanchthon were the theologians for the two branches of the Protestant Church, and in these minds the influence of Platonism is very visible and marked. Melanchthon was one of the ripest Grecians of his time, and his whole intellectual method is the spontaneous product of a pure and genial sympathy with the philosophy of the Academy. Calvin, though less intensely and distinctively Platonic, because his mind was naturally more logical and dialectic, and this tendency had been strengthened by his early legal studies, exhibits a symmetrical union of the two systems whose influence we are describing. No one can read the first five chapters of the first book of the Institutes, without perceiving plainly, that this mind, which has done so much to shape and mould modern systematic theology, had itself been formed and moulded, so far as philosophical opinions and methods are concerned, by the Grecian Theism.1
1 Ego Scholasticos cum judicio, nia probo. Luther's Works, I. non clansis ocnlis lego.... Non 402 (De Wette's Ed.), rejicio omnia eorum, sed nec om
§ 2. Philosophy of ilie English and AngloAmerican Churches.
Respecting the prevalence of Platonism and Aristotelianism since the time of the Reformation, our limits will permit only a veiy concise statement. These two systems exerted upon the English theology of the 17th century, both of the Established Church and of the Nonconforming divines, a very powerful influence. Selecting Hooker as the representative of the first, and Howe of the last, we see that the Platonic philosophy never iu any age of the church moulded the theological mind more pervasively and thoroughly, than in this instance. In Baxter and Owen, both of whom were also very diligent students of the Schoolmen, we perceive more of the influence of the Aristotelian system.2 This body of divinity, which without question is the most profound that the English mind has originated, owes its systematic form and structure to the Grecian intellectual methods. Respecting the influence of philosophy upon the English and Anglo-American theologies of the 18th and 19th centuries, we briefly remark the following. The system of Locke, which held undisputed sway in both countries during the 18th century, is antagonistic in its first principle to the PlatonicoAristotelian system. Its primary position that all knowledge comes from sensation and reflection, if rigorously construed, renders it a sensuous system, and brings it into affinity with those ancient Epicurean and materializing schools which it was the endeavour of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to overthrow. The French philosophers of the 18th century put this strict construction upon Locke's affirmation respecting the source of all ideas, and built up a system from which all spiritual ideas and truths were banished. The Scotch philosophers, on the contrary, put a loose construction upon Locke's dictum, and regarded "reflection," in distinction from "sensation," as the source of that particular class of ideas which are the foundation of morals and religion, and which cannot, confessedly, be derived through sensation. The system of Locke, as interpreted by the French school, run itself out into sheer materialism and atheism. The system of Locke, as interpreted by the Scotch mind, was brought into affinity with the theism of the past,—though only by elevating the function of "reflection" into a coordinate rank with that of "sensation," and making it a second and independent inlet of knowledge.
1 The authors most quoted are * " Next to practical divinity, Plato, Oicero, Aristotle, Plutarch, no books so suited with my and Xenophon of the Pagans; and disposition as Aquinas, Scotus, Augustine, Lactantius, and Boe- Durandus, Occam, and their disthitis of the Ecclesiastical writers, ciples; because I thought they Simon Grynaeus, the famous Pla- narrowly searched aftertrnth, and tonist, was one of the most inti- brought things out of the darkmate friends and associates of ness of confusion. For I could Calvin. never from my first studies endure confusion. Till eqnivocals Qnotuplex. I never thought I
were explained, and definition understood anything till I could
and distinction led the wav, I had anatomize it, and see the parts
rather hold my tongue than speak; distinctly, and the conjunction of
and I was never more weary of the parts, as they make up the
learned men's discourses, than whole. Distinction and method
when I heard them wrangling seemed to me of that necessity,
about unexpounded words or that without them I could not be
things, and eagerly disputing be- said to know; and the disputes
fore they understood each other's that forsook them, or abused
minds, and vehemently asserting them, seemed but as incoherent
modes, and consequences, and ad- dreams." Baxter's Narrative of
juncts, before they considered of his Life and Times, the Quod sit, the Quid tit, or the
The English and American theologies of the 18th and 19th centuries have felt the influence of the Locke philosophy, in the modified form of the Scotch school; while the earnest and practical religious spirit, which has characterized these churches, has tended to neutralize the materializing elements that still remained in it. During the last quarter of the present century, both countries have felt the influence of a revived interest in that elder system whose history we have been delineating,—an interest that is growing deeper and stronger, and from which, if not allowed to become extreme to the neglect of the theological and practical religious interests of the church and the world, the best results for Christian science may be expected.
§ 3. Philosophy of the German Church.
A very important and influential movement of the theological mind, since the Reformation, appears in the German theology of the last half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries. We are too near this, in time, to be able to judge of it in the best manner, for we have yet to see its final issue. One thing, however, is certain, that so far as it is a truthful and really scientific method of theologizing, it is due greatly to the influence of the Grecian masters in philosophy, and their successors.
The Germanic mind has been influenced during the last hundred years, by two entirely antagonistic systems of human speculation,—that of Theism, and that of Pantheism. The former, as we have seen, has come down from Plato and Aristotle; the latter, though not unknown to the ancient world, yet received its first scientific construction in the mind of that original and powerful errorist, Baruch Spinoza. The revival of the interest in philosophy, which began as soon as the general European mind had become somewhat tranquillized, after the deep central excitement of the Reformation and of the theological controversies which followed it had partially abated, showed itself in the rise of the systems of Des Cartes, Leibnitz, WolfF, and Kant. All these systems are substantially theistic. They reject the doctrine of only one Substance, and
strongly mark the distinction between finite and infinite Being. They are all of them, in greater or less degree, influenced by the systems of Plato and Aristotle, and are in the same general line of philosophical speculation. But the deep and solid foundation for pantheism that had been laid by Spinoza, and the imposing architectural superstructure which he himself had reared upon it, gave origin to another, and totally different philosophical tendency and system of speculation. For although Des Cartes, Leibnitz, and Kant differ from each other, and upon important points, yet their systems are all theistic, and therefore favorable to the principles of ethics and natural religion. The systems of Spinoza and his successors Schelling and Hegel, have, on the other hand, had a more uniform agreement with each other. They are fundamentally and scientifically pantheistic; and therefore are destructive of the first principles of morals and religion. By their doctrine of only one Substance, only one Intelligence, only one Being, they annihilate all the fixed lines and distinctions of theism, —distinctions like those which imply the metaphysical reality of an uncreated and a created essence or being, and lines like those which distinguish right and wrong, free-will and fate, from each other, as absolute contraries, and irreconcilable opposites.
So far therefore as the theological mind of Germany has been influenced by the earlier Germanic philosophy, and more especially so far as it has felt the influence of the Platonic and Aristotelian systems themselves, it has adopted the historical theism, and its philosophical thinking has harmonized with that of the church from the beginning.
It is true, that in the eighteenth century, the German Church was largely infected with rationalism and deism ; but this should be traced primarily to a decline of the religious life itself,—to the absence of a profound consciousness of sin and redemption. The existence of a living, and practical experience of New Testament Christianity in the heart, does not depend ultimately upon a system of philosophy, good or bad, though it is undoubtedly favored or hindered by it, but upon far deeper and more practical causes. At the same time it should be noticed, that if the church must make its choice between two such evils, as an arid and frigid deism, or an imaginative and poetic pantheism, it chooses the least evil, in electing that system which does not annihilate the first principles of ethics and practical morality, and which, if it does not accept a revealed religion, does at least leave the human soul the truths of natural religion. An unevangelical, though serious-minded Lord Herbert of Cherbury, or Immanuel Kant, who insists upon the absolute validity of the ideas of God, freedom, and immortality, together with the immutable reality of right and wrong, is a less dangerous enemy to the gospel, than an unevangelic pantheist, who denies the metaphysical reality of each and all of these ideas, as apprehended and accepted by the common human mind, and destroys the foundations not merely of revealed religion, but of all religion, by affirming that God is the only Substance, and the only Being, and that all that has been, is, and ever shall be, is his self-evolution and manifestation.1
On looking at the scientific theology of Germany, during the present century, we find it modified by both of these two great philosopical tendencies. The two systems of theism and pantheism have been conflicting in this highly speculative country, with an energy and intensity unequalled in the history of philosophy; so that the theological mind of Germany exhibits a remarkable diversity of opinions and tendencies. Even in the antirationalistic or spiritual school, this same opposition between the historical Theism and Spinozism is to be seen. The theology of Schleiermacher, which has exerted a great influence upon classes that disagree with it—upon the Rationalist on the one hand, and the Supernaturalist on the other, and upon all the intermediates between these—is characterized by a singular heterogeneity of elements. Its founder was a diligent student of Plato, and an equally diligent student of Spinoza. Hence, while we find in this system, a glowing and devout temper that is favorable to a living theism, and a vital Christianity, we also find principles that are subversive not merely of revealed but of natural religion.1 In fact, this system presents, in one respect, the most remarkable phenomenon in the whole history of theology and philosophy,—the phenomenon of a system mainly pantheistic, instrumental at a particular crisis in the history of a national mind, in turning its attention to the more distinctively spiritual and evangelical doctrines of Christianity. Having served this purpose, however, its work is done, and it cannot, as the course of thinking now going on in Germany itself plainly indicates, continue to satisfy the wants of the theological mind, but must either be adopted in all its logical consequences, and thereby become the destruction of evangelical religion, or else be rejected and left behind, in that further progress towards, and arrival at New Testament Christianity, which it was instrumental, by a logical inconsistency however, in initiating.
1 In the annual report of the pean ideas engrafted into the na
American Board of Foreign Mis- tive mind. It professes to he the
sions for 1857, a missionary to In- religion of nature, admitting the
dia represents the passage from existence of one God, and denying
the Hindoo pantheism to Chris- a revelation from him. The num
tianity, as sometimes mediated ber who hold these sentiments is
and facilitated by the temporary so large, as to produce a percepti
reception of deistical views in the ble weakening effect on the power
place of pantheistic ones. "Mr. of caste, and the bondage to Hin
Ballantine," says the Report, dooism [pantheism]. It is not, in
"calls attention to certain facts general, of the malignant type of
whioh are instructive, and, for the infidelity in Christian lands, and
most part, encouraging. (1.) The to a certain extent is auxiliary to
progress of deistical principles the gospel; with many, it is a
among the Hindoos. This is great, stepping-stone from Hindooism
It is an effect of education, and to Christianity." the multiform influence of Euro
1 ScbJeiermacher's definition of religion, as "the feeling of dependence npon the Infinite," does not involve theism, unless the Infinite is defined to be a person. Bnt in a correspondence with the elder Sack, published posthumously in the Studien and Kritioken, 1860 (Heft I. 158-9), Schleiermacher expressly asserts, in answer to the inquiry of his correspondent, that the existence of this feeling of dependence does not of necessity require that the Infinite should be personal. Neudeceer (Miinscher—Von Colin, Dogmengeschichte, in. § 28) quotes the following from Schleiermacher (Glaubenslehre, I. § 42), in proof
that he held the theory of an eternal creation of the world. Speaking of the Mosaic account of creation, he remarks: "Jene ganze Frage setzt einen zeitlichen Anfang der Welt schon als entschieden voraus, allein unser unmittelbares Abhungigkeitsgefuhl findet in dieser Annahme keine bestimmtere Befriedigung als in einen ewigen Schopfung der Welt." This quotation is not to be found in the Berlin edition of 1852; but on page 200 (Vol. I.) it is remarked, that it is indifferent to the Abhangigkeitsgefuh], whether the doctrine of a temporal or an eternal creation be adopted.
The final judgment, consequently, in respect to the real worth and influence of the philosophic movement of the German mind, must be held in reserve, until the final issue appears. The estimate which the future historian will form of it, will be determined according as the German Church of the future shall draw nearer to the symbols of the Reformation, or shall recede further from them. But the same may be said of German theologizing, that has been remarked of theological science in the former periods, and in other countries,—viz: that so far as it has been influenced by the Platonic and Aristotelian systems, it has been theistic in its principles and methods, and has been favorably formed and moulded.