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And the fresh rose on yonder thorn
Gives back the bending heavens in dew.” Theodore Parker attributes to Jesus some degree of moral as well as intellectual imperfection, while showing, however, a warm and sympathetic appreciation of him as a great and good Being, a living and true Man. But he, too, shall speak for himself (see works edited by F. P. Cobbe, vol. i. p. 165). "Jesus, a young man full of genius for Religion." On p. 193, "Sometimes he is said to be an enthusiast who hoped to found a visible kingdom in Judæa by miraculous aid. ... Even if the fact be admitted, as I think it must be, ... his honesty, zeal, self-sacrifice, heavenly piety still shine out in the whole course of his life.” On pages 195, 196, “Jesus ... in this nation of forms“ . . . falls back upon simple Morality, simple Religion, united in himself the sublimest precepts and divinest practices, thus more than realizing the dream of prophets and sages; rises free from so many prejudices of his age, nation, or sect; gives free range to the spirit of God in his breast; sets aside the law, sacred and time-honoured as it was, its forms, its sacrifice, its temple, and its priest; puts away the Doctors of the law, subtle, learned, irrefragable; and pours out doctrines, beautiful as the light, sublime as Heaven, and true as God. The philosophers, the poets, the prophets, the Rabbis,-he rises above them all. Yet Nazareth was no Athens, where philosophy breathed in the circumambient air; it had neither porch nor lyceum, not even a school of the prophets. Doubtless he had his errors, his follies, faults, and sins even ; it is idle and absurd to deny it.” On p. 200 we meet with the following hearty tribute :
“ Serene in awful loveliness . a Man of the highest type. Blessed be God that so much manliness has been lived out, and stands there yet, a lasting monument to mark how high the tides of divine life have risen in the human world. It bids us take courage and be glad, for what man has done he may do; yea, more. “Jesus, there is no dearer name than thine, Which time has blazoned on his mighty scroll ; No wreaths or garlands ever did entwine So fair a temple of so vast a soul. There every virtue set his triumph-seal ; Wisdom conjoined with strength and radiant grace In a sweet copy Heaven to reveal, And stamp perfection on a mortal face Once on the earth wert thou, before men's eyes, That did not half thy beauteous brightness see, Even as the emmet does not read the skies, Nor our weak orbs look thro' immensity. Once on the earth wert thou, a living shrine, Wherein conjoining dwelt the Good, the Lovely, the Divine.'
“Here was the greatest soul of the sons of men ; a man of genius for religion; one before whom the majestic mind of Grecian sages and of Hebrew seers must veil its face."
Professor F. W. Newman's estimate of Jesus is far lower than any we have yet quoted. He ranks him, it is true, among the “kindling souls," to be named with special honour,” but quotes a sentence from the Quarterly Review respecting Madame Roland (“ To say that she was without fault would be to say that she was not human ”), as expressing or implying his own strong conviction of the moral frailty of every human being. Were a biographer to write a life of Jesus or of any man, in which no defect of moral character could be discerned, he would, nevertheless, believe that, being simply a man, he must be “frail and imperfect.” But in regard to Jesus, Mr. Newman says,* "I have given ... indications of points in which the conduct of Jesus does not seem to me to have been that of a perfect man: how any one can think him a universal model is to me still less intelligible.”
In a tract on the “ True Temptation of Jesus," he says, after allowing for exaggeration in the Gospel narratives, “it comes before me as certain fact, that the true temptation of Jesus was the whisper made to him, 'Are you not possibly the Messiah?' and by it the legendary devil overcame him."
And in respect of the relative moral position of Jesus, he says (or said in 1853), at the conclusion of the chapter above alluded to in “Phases of Faith,” “in consistency of goodness Jesus fell far below vast numbers of his unhonoured disciples.”
The Jesus of Professor Newman is, perhaps, morally comparable to the "Savonarola " of George Eliot.
Strauss, in his “Life of Jesus for the People," while admitting that the Nazarene had a “harmonious mental constitution,” yet does not hesitate to pronounce him an arrant enthusiast, "a fanatic, and not a common one either,” if he ever expected a second advent, and this he leaves in some doubt; but he, too, had better speak for himself: “ Jesus,” says he,* "appears as a beautiful nature from the first, which had only to develop itself out of itself to become more clearly conscious of itself, ever firmer in itself, but not to change and begin a new life ; a condition which naturally does not exclude individual uncertainties and errors, the necessity of a constant serious effort to overcome self and deny self, as Jesus acknowledged by disclaiming, as has been stated above, the predicate of 'good' attributed to him. For the different, or rather the evasive form in which this speech is represented in Matt. xix. 17, is certainly a later alteration."
* “ Phases of Faith,” second edition, chapter on “ Moral Perfection of Jesus."
And again he says, “he who expects to come again after his death, as no human being ever has done, is, in our opinion, not exactly a madman, because in reference to the future imagination is more possible, but still an arrant enthusiast." "Nor should it be said that a fanatic would not have produced the historical effects which Jesus did produce ; would not have had the sound and lofty views which, up to this point, have been analyzed. This may be true of an impostor, and this character, therefore, we leave entirely out of the question. But it is no unusual phenomenon to see high spiritual gifts and moral endowments tempered with an ingredient of enthusiasm ; and of the great men of history it might even be absolutely maintained that not one of them would have existed without enthusiasm ” (pp. 323, 324).
* Authorized Translation : William and Norgate, p. 283.
We are not acquainted with the works of any writer of the present day who does not account Jesus of Nazareth at least a good and great man. We know not one who would now speak of him in terms of pure censure or contempt. "Perhaps Voltaire,” says Emerson, “was not bad-hearted, yet he said of the good Jesus even, 'I pray you, let me never hear that man's name again.' And if we go back to that last century, and cross the Channel, we may also chance to hear the Galilean termed an impostor. We believe it was Volney who wrote of “The three ImpostorsMoses, Mohammed, and Christ." All that, we may well believe, is finally got rid of.*
And it will be well, perhaps, to terminate here our cursory survey of opinions relative to the Prophet
* We mean among respectable British writers at least, to whom the only alternatives are—either Jesus was, at lowest, a great and good man, or he was a person whose life was so enshrouded in fable that we have no right to form any opinion respecting him. It appears, however, that if we descend low enough we shall alight on expressions of opinion utterly hostile to the fame of the Nazarene, for since writing the above we have met with the following, bearing no earlier date than 1866 :-“
:-“Never since he ascended to his throne was he the object of a more passionate adoration than now; never did he encounter the glare of a hatred more intense, and more defiant ; and between these, the poles of a contemplation incessantly directed upon his person, there are shades and levels of thought and feeling, many and graduated, here detracting from the highest expressions of faith, there shrinking from the most violent extremities of blasphemy.”—“ Divinity of our Lord,” etc., by H. P. Liddon, M.A., p. 17.