Page images



Christian doctrine in the intermediate period between pure Apostolic Christianity and the Church of the present day.

Among the secular branches of study the History of Philosophy is very closely connected with the History of Dogmas, having the same relation to it as Dogmatics to Philosophy. They have many objects in common, but their respective standpoints are very different. Philosophy developes the consciousness of reason out of itself; Dogmatics on the contrary is occupied with historical data, with the development of truths presented in the divine Word which have passed into the Christian consciousness. Two factors enter into the construction of dogmas, the religious element, and the element of scientific culture in which the Christian doctrine developes itself. As the History of Dogmas traces the development of revealed truth by the co-operation of these two factors, so no right understanding of this process of development is possible without a reference to the influence of the Schools of Philosophy. The question arises, in what relation does Philosophy stand to the spirit of Christianity, how far does it prepare the mind for Christianity, or does it introduce a hostile spirit and infuse foreign elements? On the other hand, as Philosophy cannot separate itself from historical development, so it cannot escape the influence of Christianity, and hence its own history cannot be understood without a knowledge of Christianity, and especially of the History of Dogmas.


The importance of the History of Dogmas in this respect will appear if we compare its design with the nature and object of theological study. In making this comparison we may set out with two distinct but not incompatible views of Theology, the one directed more to its outward nature, the other to its inward. In the former view Schleiermacher defines it to be the Science which relates to the guidance of the Church, that is, the development of the knowledge and regulations which concern the management and practical efficiency of the Church. But the Church internally considered as a spiritual community can only be guided by the administration of divine Truth, on which its very existence depends. This furnishes us with another idea of Theology, as the Science of this Truth, which is to be drawn from its original source, to be developed

and vinaicated. The question then is, what necessary connexion has the History of Dogmas with Theology under these two aspects. The guidance of the Church requires a correct understanding of the state of the Church at the present time. But in all cases, the life of any age can only be understood by viewing it in its historical relations. For every state or condition has become what it is through its antecedents, and is only to be understood by finding out the causes which produced it, so that universally the Present can only be intelligible when viewed in connexion with the whole chain of historical developments in which one link depends upon another. Thus each particular event requires to be closely studied. We can understand the present standpoint of the Christian life and its dogmatic tendencies only by the help of the History of Dogmas. And if this is an indispensable requisite for the guidance of the Church in times of quiet development, much more so is it at critical periods. Then, in order to ascertain our real position we need to know how the various tendencies in action originated. Every man is, in one sense, an historical production; the ideas which form his mental life, have come upon him through the course of development, in which he moves. But we must raise ourselves above this dependence in order to be competent judges of our own age. There is indeed a theory which regards the prevailing mode of thinking as a Vox Dei, and yields to it with a blind obsequiousness. But viewed from the standpoint of Christianity and the unbiased contemplation of moral truth, this is of no value. In every age good and evil influences are mingled, and we observe the agency of God's Spirit and of the Spirit of Falsehood. Hence, it is of the greatest importance to distinguish what really belongs to an advance in the kingdom of God, and what proceeds from the re-action of the anti-Christian principle. We must follow not the Spirit of the age but the Spirit of God. It is indispensable that we should raise ourselves to a standpoint of objective truth. This will be best done by contemplating a definite period in its genetic development and learning from that, what influence it has on the development of the kingdom of God by means of the divine and anti-Christian elements which it contains. History places before us the tendencies of our age in their causes and moving principles.

There is an opposite error which sometimes makes its



appearance in relation to Dogmatics. Either people attach themselves slavishly to a prescribed form, as if it alone contained absolute truth; or, abjuring such one-sidedness and acknowledging the variableness of forms, they regard everything as unsettled, and would bring even essential truth within the range of changeable forms. While the former class would regard only the ancient form apart from the progressive movement of the human mind, these persons speak of nothing but movement. The former are to be met with, especially in times of defective historical culture, as in the dogmatism of the middle ages, and in the Lutheran Church of the seventeenth century. Historical Study, on the contrary, since it aims at forming conceptions of Christianity both in its rise and progress, teaches us to distinguish between the essential and the unessential in it; we learn to discern what constitutes true Christianity under various forms, and are put on our guard against confining ourselves to one form, and uncharitably condemning every other. As to the other error when on account of the human in Dogmas, the divine they contain is ignored and nothing is left of Christianity but a worthless residuum without vitality,-History is a preservative against this also; for as it teaches us the various conceptions of Christianity in their genetic development, it shows in all of them the peculiar essence of this Religion, and likewise the power with which it has penetrated the heart of Humanity.

Yet the study of History serves not merely for understanding the Present; it has an important relation to Truth in all its branches, and its own special aim. Thus the History of Dogmas is peculiarly important for Christianity, as far as it presents one branch of it, namely, that of doctrine. It shows in the development of doctrine, the process of culture which the human mind has experienced under the influence of Christianity, which does not remain as so much dead stock, but as a leaven must evolve itself more and more in the consciousness. We behold the Truth proceeding from Christ to conflict with Error and triumph over it, and we have in that a pledge of its eternally victorious power. We not only perceive what effect the consciousness of Christian truth immediately produces on men, so as to lead their thinking to new results; but also how Reason by the impulse it received from Christianity has attained to many truths which otherwise

its unaided powers could not have discovered; this thought has been admirably worked out by Augustine in his beautiful work De verâ Religione. As we descry in History the traces of a higher necessity, we learn to understand the self-developing process of Christian truth. Scientific inquiry finds order where ignorance sees only confusion, and what leads the latter astray, serves to confirm the former in the truth. Hence the superficial judgment to which the study of heresies seems useless and an acquaintance with dogmatic controversies a fruitless burden for the memory-is easily set aside. If we will but view such phenomena in connexion with their causes, we shall discover the deeper reasons which bear witness of the Truth, and in many a seemingly unimportant fact, a fundamental tendency of the human mind will be revealed which re-appears in our own times. If it is important for the interests of Science to understand an abnormal natural phenomenon, it is still more important to form an accurate judgment of an irregular spiritual phenomenon


In this inquiry the various methods of treating History in general, in all departments, come under our consideration. The rudest mode of presenting History is that of Chronicles, in which facts and phenomena are set down and arranged only according to the order of Time. In this form History is simply an outward thing, a lifeless aggregate, a mere burden for the memory. Aristotle, it is true, seems to make History consist only of matters of detail, when he says that Poetry represents the Universal, whatever takes place according to the laws of Possibility and Necessity, and is therefore more philosophical and noble than History which only gives an account of particulars. But in this we cannot agree with him, for the province of History also includes the Universal and the Necessary. Polybius, on the other hand, justly remarks: "If we take away from History the Why, and the How, and the for What, nought is left save what may give momentary pleasure, but is productive of no lasting advantage." Least of all can Chronicles suffice for the History of Dogmas which relates to spiritual facts, to convictions of the Soul, which cannot be contemplated or understood in a state of isolation, but



only in connexion with what is internal. Hence we must advance from the Chronicle to what Polybius calls the pragmatic method, τρόπος πραγματικός, which contemplates the phenomena of History, under the relation of cause and effect. But even here, great variety is possible. Even Polybius distinguishes the airía and the agxaí, the internal and the external causes in History; the former being the deeply lying germ, the latter being the apparently first and immediate causes and beginnings. This distinction is of special importance in the History of Dogmas which treats of recondite causes and spiritual phenomena. Their idea and aim cannot be explained by outward Pragmatism which attempts to eluci date the greatest dogmatic phenomena from without, by external circumstances, personal partialities and the like, and especially in controversies would trace everything to worldly interests and political intrigues. Or if it should be in quest of a psychological connexion, it does not seek for the deepest such as is founded in the development of constitution of a religious life. Hence the development of doctrine appears as a blind play of chance, the greatest contrarieties seem to arise out of nothing, and Dogmas are like passing meteors. By such a mode of treatment the History of Dogmas becomes subordinate to that of political events; it possesses no unity and consequently is devoid of all interest. But nearer examination shows that this method must be very superficial. What so deeply moved men's minds could not arise merely from the vicious passions of individuals, but have some far deeper connexion with the human spirit. That outward Pragmatism confounding the outward occasion with the internal principle, imagined that it could trace many controversies to mere logomachy, as for example the Nestorian to the word Jeoróxos. But this controversy could not have arisen, if the word had not had a deeper signification for the men who used it. It was the watch-word for deeper lying contrarieties. Thus also the dispute between the eastern and western churches was brought to an issue by outward occasions, but the antagonism of the two parties lay far deeper, and the dispute had been long in preparation. Outward influences of certain tendencies made their appearance, but they could not orig nate a dogmatic interest; they only gave another form to what was already in existence. The Church possesses a peculiar power which

« PreviousContinue »