Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

LECTURE IV

ROBERT BROWNING

Giving thanks unto the Father, who made us meet to be partakers of the inberitance of the saints in light, who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the son of his love; in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins : who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation ; for in bim were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers ; all things have been created through him and unto him ; and be is before all things, and in him all things consist ; and be is the head of the body, the Church : who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in all things he might bave the pre-eminence."

--COLOSSIANS i. 12-18.

In this majestic and wide-embracing sentence we have not only one of the earliest records of the apostolic teaching in regard to the personality of Christ, but also the one authoritative credential for an optimistic faith in regard to Christ's creative and administrative work in the world.

Thirty years ago, when Dr. Lightfoot was writing here in Cambridge his commentary on this epistle, he lamented that the Church of England had allowed this doctrine of the Incarnation, this idea of Christ as the supreme person in all history—the image of the invisible God, the perfect manifestation in human form of the

eternal reason, the logos of Greek thought, “by whose agency the world of matter was created and is sustained, who is at once the beginning and the end of material things," the Head also of His Church, that great spiritual society which was to extend through all Christian ages as the ideal storehouse of redemption for ever,

the

permanent home where all human relations were to find their consecration and ennoblement to fall into the background of modern theological thought.

“The loss,” he said, “is most serious. How much our theological conceptions suffer in breadth and fulness by the neglect a moment's reflection will show. How much more hearty would be the sympathy of theologians with the revelations of science, and the developments of history, if they habitually connected them with the operation of the same Divine Word who is the centre of all their religious aspirations, it is needless to say. Through the recognition of this idea with all the consequences which flow from it, as a living influence, more than in any other way, may we hope to strike the chords of that 'vaster music' which results only from the harmony of knowledge and of faith, of reverence and research.” 1

During the last two decades of the last century we ve seen this hope of our great Bishop largely fulfilled. Not only in the theological writings of the two other members of that wonderful Cambridge triumvirate, in such brilliant essays as those of Aubrey Moore and Dr. Illingworth in Lux Mundi, and in the latter writer's book on the “ Divine Immanence,” in Dr. Gore's

Bampton Lectures,” and in his “ Dissertations on Subjects connected with the Incarnation,” in the many learned and philosophical articles on the development of Christian doctrine in Hastings' “ Dictionary of the Bible," and in the “Encyclopædia Biblica,” but also in the more popular pulpit teaching of all thoughtful preachers of our day, do we find the doctrine of the Incarnation, in the larger sense indicated by Dr. Lightfoot, given a place and prominence which was certainly quite unusual thirty, or even twenty, years ago.

Anglican theology in fact seems to be gradually passing behind the somewhat pinched and narrow faith of the Latin theologians to the richer, more large-hearted, more inspiring doctrine of the Incarnation, which is characteristic of the great Greek Christian fathers of the early Church. Our modes of thought, in fact—to quote a saying of Aubrey Moore—are becoming every day increasingly Greek. Slowly, and under the shock of controversy, we seem to be recovering the buried truths of Christianity, and to be realising the greatness of our heritage. The almost forgotten doctrine of the Divine Immanence, the belief in Christ, the incarnate Word, as “ creation's secret force," comes to us with all the power of a new discovery.

I have observed that of late years it has become rather the fashion to speak of this change of attitude in Anglican theologians as mainly due to the publication of Lux Mundi in the year 1889. Now, I have no wish, of course, to deny that to the publication of that book, and still more perhaps to the subsequent work of its editor

and of his group of brilliant Oxford friends, much of the revival of interest in the theological doctrines of Christianity, and especially in their application to the great social problems of modern life, is very largely due. But we at least in Cambridge ought not, I think, to forget that this re-statement or readjustment of Christian doctrine, which has so intimately affected the later character of the Anglican revival, had taken place completely in the teaching of one great Christian Doctor of the nineteenth century, perhaps its greatest, more than sixty years ago — I mean in the writings of Frederick Denison Maurice.

I trust I am not exhibiting the spirit of a false University patriotism when I express the opinion that the “ Oxford Movement” in the English Church is hardly the full equivalent of the “Anglican Revival” in the nineteenth century, or of the mere partiality of an old pupil in this place of Frederick Maurice, when I say that it sometimes seems to me that the younger generation of Oxford theologians, who “regard themselves as adjusting the High Church theology of Dr. Pusey and his generation to the newer knowledge of our day,” do not, at least publicly, sufficiently recognise the debt which they owe to Maurice for the lead which he gave more than sixty years ago.

I do not mean, of course, to assert that the doctrine of the Incarnation in its modern re-statement originated solely with Maurice. But he was the theologian who first in our time set it forth in the new form which the new age

needed. * Maurice himself confessed his obligation especially

to Coleridge, and there can be no doubt that that transcendental thinker did give a very strong direction to Maurice's thought, as indeed, in conjunction with Wordsworth, he did to most of the early leaders of the Liberal Movement in Theology in the last century. Indeed, I think it is both interesting and curious to observe that the teaching of Coleridge has been claimed by both the Liberal and the Catholic school in the Church of England as a chief source of inspiration. You will all remember, for example, the passage in Newman's “ Apologia" in which that great leader claims Coleridge as a philosophical initiator of the High Church school, “ laying a basis for Church feelings and opinions, installing a higher philosophy into inquiring minds,' and thus “making trial of his age and succeeding in interesting its genius in the cause of Catholic truth.'

And it is true, no doubt, that, just as the literary influence of Sir Walter Scott succeeded in turning back the thoughts of Englishmen from eighteenth-century prose to the glamour and poetry of the Middle Ages, awakened them to the noble traditions of mediæval chivalry and romance, and thus prepared the way for the Catholic revival in the Church of England, so also did Coleridge help in his transcendental way to summon to life from the Catholic past things which had been dead or sleeping, which have in their turn contributed to the enrichment and the impassionment of the religious imagination of the Anglo-Catholic school.

Yet it is nevertheless certain that the deeper life of Coleridge's thought—the spirit at least of such books as his “ Aids to Reflection,” with its re-reading and renova

[ocr errors]
« ÎnapoiContinuați »