Review of Leckey's Rationalism

J. N. Darby.

<42046E> 262

(Notes and Comments Vol. 2.)

{"History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe." By W. E. H. Leckey, M. A. 2 vols.: third edition. London: Longmans Green and Co., 1866.}

This book is a useful index, on many subjects, by one who has read all sorts of middle age facts, and records his reading. But it is a very superficial or narrow-minded book - not one elevated idea, and all within the narrow-minded circle of his own views. He has not an idea of any energy beyond what he calls rationalism, i.e. the course of events which comes from God knows where, and which he admits, in his last page, has destroyed every noble feeling. The belief in dogma and eternal punishment - his great bugbears - "have produced persecution"; as if the Heathen had not persecuted! If he had said "a priesthood in possession of power" had done so - à la bonne heure. He accounts for it in the Christians opposing circus-games and theatres!

His delight is scepticism, as of all this class - anything as the truth they have no conception of. Now this is folly, for if the Son of God came down to earth, if God became a man, it is a fact, not becomes as taught a dogma; to make it of no importance is evidently false, because it offers an infinite object - affords the highest and most formative motive - implies, especially when enquired into, the deepest moral elements in the relationship of God and man. Am I to worship Him or not? And worship is the highest condition of the soul. Is He to be all to me or not? Is the rejection of Him, and perfect love in Him indifferent? All this, and his judgment of events is very superficial. Thus the excessive corruption, and money oppression, the shocking of conscience before the Reformation is all ignored. It was "progressive enlightening"! Now this is quite false in fact, though that helped through printing, etc. But the Italian enlightened ones were infidels, and then opposed. Providence ordered these things, but he habitually overlooks the principal causes which operated towards the recrudescence of popery, spiritualism, etc. - all is ignored; he sees only his own ideas.

I will come to details:

Volume 1, chapter 34, etc. The whole ground of rationalism is false - here it takes the subjective state of men, not evidence, as the test of truth; see also page 101. But page 102 is mere positivism - "We believe what we have experienced"; but nothing can be more degrading, nor can anything be more illogical, or at any rate unreasonable than this, because it assumes our material experience to be the measure of everything, whereas even our mental experience - our own bodies prove the contrary, i.e., the action of what is not material on matter. A woman faints when she hears her son is crushed - what does that? My heart beats - what keeps it going? Nor is it true that because I believe in devils, that I am "nervously excited" if I adequately believe in other things - he admits it was not so when the Church's power was believed. When all was doubted, then this dread of devils came in; this is to be noted.

263 Rationalism, by Leckey's own account, brought in the fear of devils, i.e., brought men back to fetishism, until it made man disbelieve everything it could not see - a baser thing still; and then I add, the reaction of spirit rapping came in. Man cannot do without the consciousness of another world of spirits; it is part of his nature. Christianity, as to all mythologies and all traditions of what is beyond sight, gives us the truth of it.

Pages 103 to 113. What is "the clear world of reality"? Preconceived notions are avowedly the ground of judgment, with Leckey only preconceived doubts of all but what is seen, which is the least real of all. It is only the incredulous spirit of this age vaunted to the discredit of the credulous of another - and the facts passed over; see his account of the Reformation, and what men call "dogma," i.e., what may be truth. This to them is immaterial. The only important point is the change in the twelfth century, in Innocent III's time, and here we have no research.

Page 176 is weak, and the book superficial though useful as giving an index to one class of facts, and shewing where the present wind blows. But there is no standpoint of judgment at all - that which he takes he has to judge, for the views of this age may be as false as the mediaeval ones, and I have no doubt they are. But truth this class of persons never think of. They will speak of darkness, of superstition, of light in themselves, of conscience, i.e., of "Man's competency to judge good and evil finally" - a strange thing to say in looking at what is in the world, and the variety of judgments - but of truth, of what God is, of what He is revealed to be, even of responsibility, never.

264 For them there is no such thing as "The truth" - it is an evil "to make guilt out of errors of opinion." I understand compassion on ignorance, but surely if I have rejected the true God, and worship Venus, or accept Mahomet as a prophet, there is some moral depravity. If Christ be God adequately manifested, the error which holds Him to be only man is a culpable one. But his argument in this page is weak. What is said does not only prove that supposing miracles should cease, it can be accounted for - it shows, if valid, that there was a reason to expect they would cease; his facts too are wrong. As a history of the aberrations of man and of Christianized man too, on one side, to set up the other it is all very well.

Pages 353-355, "Religion"! but I wait.

Page 390. "A high degree of civilisation always connected with degraded morals, and the fall of national powers," etc.; note this!

Page 388. What religion is: "There are two moral sentiments which seem universally diffused through the human race, and which may be regarded as the nuclei around which all religious systems are formed. They are the sense of virtue, leading men to attach the idea of merit to certain actions which they may perform; and the sense of sin, teaching men that their relation to the deity is not that of claimants but of suppliants." "They co-exist," he says; but classical heathenism was mainly one - Christianity the other. But then he knows nothing but morality, or more or less Catholic or earlier corruption.

Now can anything be more superficial or miserable than this? Which is true? Are both? Or supposing merit to be false, - as, if the sense of sin is true, it must be, for guilt is not merit, nor "striking a balance" anything but the vilest of thoughts, - if the sense of sin is right, is there no answer to it - or what? No goodness in God known? No judgment to fear?

His religion consists of subsisting thoughts in man, without knowing what is true of them, or leaving God wholly out, save supplicating some unknown One. Knowledge of Him, or goodness meeting conscience, to say nothing of righteousness, wholly left out. There is conscience - there is pretention to merit in man - they do co-exist. Priesthood uses both for its false profit. But I cannot conceive anything more superficial, or more total absence of search after truth, than this sentence. I could understand his longing after an answer and not having one, or trying after one and losing himself. He takes what every one sees and leaves it there, but leads every one to some thoughts of God even if false - him to none.

265 Page 396 and following - "The spirit of truth"!

Volume 2, pages 58, 62. Notice this about truth and persecution, "guilt of error" and "cause of persecution" - clergy! "Among the Protestants it may, I believe, be safely affirmed, that there was no example of the consistent advocacy or practice of toleration in the sixteenth century that was not virulently denounced by all sections of the clergy, and scarcely any till the middle of the seventeenth century"! "Persecution among the early Protestants was a distinct and definite doctrine, digested into elaborate treatises, indissolubly connected with a large portion of the received theology, developed by the most enlightened and far-seeing theologians, and enforced against the most inoffensive as against the most formidable sects. It was the doctrine of the palmiest days of Protestantism"! "If man is bound to form his opinions by his private judgment … it is absurd to brand honest error as criminal, and to denounce the spirit of impartiality and of scepticism as offensive to the deity. This is what almost all Protestant leaders did in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and what a very large proportion of them still do, and it was out of this conception of the guilt of error that persecution arose"!

Page 67. "The axiom that the whole is greater than a part, represents the highest kind of certainty to which we can possibly attain, and no message purporting to be a revelation can be received in contradiction to it. For the reality of such a revelation and the justice of such an interpretation, must necessarily be established by a process of reasoning, and no process of reasoning can be so evident as the axiom"!

Page 68. As to Bayle, he says: "Bayle, like Montaigne and Descartes, was tolerant because he was rationalistic, and was rationalistic because he was sceptical"!

"Different men according to the measure of their faculties obtain some faint glimpses of different aspects of the divine nature, and no one has a right to arrogate to himself the possession of such an amount of perfect truth as to render it unnecessary for him to correct and enlarge his views by comparing them with those even of the most ignorant of mankind"!

266 Pages 84, 85. "The truth is scattered far and wide in small portions among mankind, mingled in every system with the dross of error, grasped perfectly by no one, and only in some degree discovered by the careful comparison and collation of opposing systems. To crush some of these systems, to stifle the voice of argument, to ban and proscribe the press, or to compel it to utter the sentiments of a single sect, is to destroy the only means we possess of arriving at truth"!

See also page 54.

This is all false.

I have not time to go through this book in detail; but it is well to see the true pretension and spirit of the system. Provided there be no certain truth, and universal scepticism they are content, so that he wishes, as far as possible, a child to be left without any impressions, that it may freely form its own judgment. "Exclusive salvation" - "eternal punishment" - are his two great bugbears.

All revelation as a source of truth is for him impossible - all knowledge of God which it is important to maintain as truth - of this I have partly spoken. If political economy prosper, and men go to the theatre, all will be well! Facts are pitched overboard without a pang. I never saw a system so neglectful of facts, while only leaning on them without one binding principle of heart or conscience from them.

Thus, while I admit the folly of Reformation bigotry, to compare, as he does, their persecution (save later in Scotland) with that of popery, is really flagrant dishonesty. Say there was bigotry - no one could deny it - wherever there is a dominant clergy there will be. But we learn how the Church, in leaving and losing its suffering place, and holding the truth at its own cost instead of at the cost of others, has given a handle and a stumbling block to the sceptic for his own destruction. The Cross is its only place.

Leckey cannot get before the third century, or rather the fourth, when corruption was complete, and the Church a disgrace. He is right as to the politician, but the politician is utterly deceived, because a clever political system of religion gets the wind of him. And he ignores the cry of conscience at the Reformation. The powers were glad to use the faith of individuals, not for morals, but to get rid of the Pope's power.

The rationalist denies that dogmas possess an intrinsic efficacy. He is incapable of truth, this man, but he ought to be incapable of self-contradiction. Half his book is to insist on the efficacy of the dogma of exclusive salvation and eternal punishment as the chief agents in the whole mediaeval and early Protestant state of things - witchcraft and all, into the bargain. Besides that the Son of God became, in love, a Man, I must hold it as a fact, i.e., as a dogma, for in Christianity dogmas are all facts, for it to be anything. Is that, if believed, of no efficacy? It alters every thought of God, and makes Him Love. This note, has nothing to do with the spirit of the age, and the clergy, when in power, persecuting to maintain dogmas. This, the Heathen, Mahommedan, Brahminical, and all other clergy have done, but that has nothing to do with the effect of the dogma itself. His argument in pages 389-391, is just Newman's for popery in his book on the Virgin. When he speaks of "dogma," he cannot get beyond "Society" - "different conditions of society" - "all the relations of society" - he knows nothing else.

267 One cannot have a more complete confession of their incapacity as to truth, than his saying, page 438, that "He who is seeking for truth is bound always to follow what appears to his mind to be the stress of probabilities," i.e., there is not, nor can there be known truth. "Probability" is never truth, and can never have the effect of truth - can never be a right ground for duty, though, contrary to what he says, it may for acts in this world, where we might be content with it as to facts and results.

He cultivates suspicion as a principle, not when he knows there is a false influence. See also volume 2, page 58: "The Puritans succeeded in subverting the Catholic rule, when they basely enacted the whole penal code against those who had so nobly and so generously received them!" How when a rationalist's heart gets out, it always beats in favour of popery!

Private judgment is all he cares for, and endless scepticism. I deny private judgment in divine things - it is the formal denial of any communication from God. As between man and man "control" is false; between God and man it alone is true.

For scepticism, see (pp. 63, 64) his praise of Descartes: "He taught men that the beginning of all wisdom is absolute, universal scepticism; that all the impressions of childhood, all the conclusions of the senses, all of what are deemed the axioms of life, must be discarded, and from the simple fact of consciousness the entire scheme of knowledge must be evolved. Like many of the greatest philosophers, Descartes did not pause to apply his principles to practical life, but their influence was not the less great." Think of each man beginning with the "fact of consciousness" for himself! Why he would not know what "consciousness" means! Why he cannot have read Descartes, to begin with! Was there every such folly?

268 See again, volume 2, page 75, how wilfully false, as prejudiced: "The spirit of tolerance soon regained the ascendancy, and when the elements of revolution had been at last consolidated into a regular government, France found herself possessed of a degree of religious liberty which had never been paralleled in any other Roman Catholic country, and which has been barely equalled in the most advanced Protestant ones." Why twenty people cannot meet together without permission!

In page 76 he admits judgment is distorted by will. How then is it to arrive at truth? Is the mass to have done with will? And what becomes of "energy"?

It proves there is no true condition but early Christianity - certain truth from God - imposing on no one - immense energy from earnest love, and suffering for it. Christ said "I am the truth." Was He "venal"? The one thing John especially insists on is "Whom I love in the truth" - for the truth's sake; and the Lord said "Sanctify them through thy truth - thy word is truth." I repeat, early Scriptural Christianity is the only thing that can be justified. Scepticism and persecution man may vacillate between - escape from one into the other, or corrupt by error, and break up all by passion as will surely come, but God declares the truth, and He is Love. "Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ."

When we speak of toleration, we suppose power in the world. It identifies, if it pass beyond the family, the connection of the Church with the world, and all is already false. What had Christ on earth to tolerate, or His disciples? That is the secret of all this - but of that these men are wholly ignorant. It is to be practised, not talked about.

See again volume 2, page 94, the confession "The question, what is truth, has certainly no prospect of obtaining a speedy answer." Surely it has not from reason - it never will. Reason is not conversant with Truth, but with consequences which are never facts but mere consequences. Truth has to do with facts - hence the positivist is right if there be no revelation (though the cravings of a soul and the workings of conscience are facts) - facts seen or facts revealed.

269 Truth is the statement of a thing as it is, on human testimony if the subject of it, on divine if beyond it. It cannot be denied that there may be facts beyond human knowledge; nor can it be denied that there may be a competency to make them known to us - nor that a superior power may act, or facts may act on our hearts and consciences. Conclusions from facts may be true and inoperative. Reason may set aside reasons, error, and so far be useful as to be being open to truth; but this man and his set know only setting aside all conceptions, and reducing the mind to abstract power - an absurdity on the face of it, for there must be education - "Universal scepticism" being the right state. And when he is there, what is he to do? Truth is not to be gained - Reason cannot go beyond mere humanly known facts. Leave God out - Utilitarianism, or selfish baseness is the only motive; passion and force are there, who is to control them? Craving after an unseen world irresistible - Scepticism practically in the mass, and venal degradation have always gone together.

Bring God in - God making Himself known - and you have truth, obligatory truth. I cannot well have the idea of God without thinking so. "The spirit of truth," he tells us "is acknowledging our fallibility," hence never, as I have said, arriving at any truth - and their "weighing all things," "all evidence against, as for" - pretty work for the great body of the people, and where to begin, and men so arriving not at a truth that something is, but at a conclusion that something must be, which has no moral effect on the mind. I must believe, i.e., be certain, as a fact, that something is, for it to have its effect; otherwise there is only prudence, not moral, action.

He has no idea - not believing any truth - that it is evil to shake some thoughts, not others; for example, the supposed duty and affection of a child to a parent, I shake it by "It must not be indulged in till the child can say why." That is the same, according to his view of the spirit of truth, as if I shook his faith in an immoral Jupiter, suckled by a goat, being a god. He seeks not truth, as if there was any, but scepticism as to all. And note here, if the will distorts the judgment, there is more or less guilt in error. And so it is - he admits the fact, and resists the conclusion - for where is guilt, if not in a perverted and perverting will?

270 Volume 2, page 93. We have here the moral effect - the denial of the necessity of correct opinions; he can know nothing but opinions. I wonder whether he believes the difference or the truth of what the Lord says, when all passed their opinions on Him, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father which is in heaven." "On this rock I will build my Church" - the difference of faith and opinion!

"A disposition more value than any particular doctrines," e.g., that Christ was God or was not!

Pages 94, 95. As to children not to be influenced - as to opposition, games cause of persecution, volume 2, page 289 - as to religious growth, volume 1, page 390, but, as I have said, nor does he deny the height of civilisation is always sunken morality. See also, as to "the judgment doubting of all," though taught to doubt of the past; volume 1, page 199.

It is full of self, the influence of the age, that is his theory; but this age is essentially rationalistic, and like all others thinks itself right - for, as to the masses, they are under the influence of the current thoughts and thinkers more than others. I do not deny his present facts, but their value; of course of the Truth and of conversion he knows nothing. At any rate see volume 1, page 203. "Each phase of civilisation has its peculiar and congenial views of the system and government of the Universe, to which the men of that time will gravitate," even Mr. Leckey - and that is all!

"Appropriate civilisation"! Did the true first power of Christianity wait for an appropriate civilisation in those who embraced it? To say that "the world reasserted its empire" is, alas! true, but, as he says that now it is being realised as the confessedly most material, money-loving age going, is a calumny on its nature - an age which he confesses knows no such thing as self-sacrifice.

Where scepticism is a virtue, the search of truth is a folly, for if it be found, I must give up scepticism - but these men are not ashamed to say it is never to be found. I repeat, in the nature of things by reason never can.

I do not now enter on man's fall and ruin - it would be idle when "scepticism is the only right state of mind." He says, volume 2, page 66, "Revelation is to be established by a process of reasoning" (this last may prove denial of it folly on man's ground) but it never can - in the nature of things, revelation must be on evidence. And what is axiomatically true, is only so in mathematics, which cannot apply to anything else than quantity, and in divine and moral things it is the height of folly to apply that. It is not a question of a contradiction of it - that is Leckey's stupidity, because a revelation, to be such, must be the bringing things to the knowledge of man which he is not cognizant of by his senses or faculties (save as condescension may help imperfect apprehensions) and hence no revelation can contradict physical facts, because it does not occupy itself with them. It may bring in God acting by signs, setting aside the operation of physical laws, or making them act by His will for a special object. And if He is the Author of them, that He can do; but He does not reveal anything which contradicts what is not the subject of revelation. "Arguments prove the use of popular language as to the sun's rising," etc. are childish in the extreme.

271 See, Introduction page 17, as to theology. "It predisposes men, in history, to attribute all kinds of phenomena to natural rather than miraculous causes; in theology to esteem succeeding systems, the expressions of the wants and aspirations of that religious sentiment, which is planted in all men; and, in ethics to regard as duties only those which conscience reveals to be such." It is monstrous, though there be truth in it as far as man is concerned, only there is no true religion; the infamies of Heathenism, the imposture of Mahometanism expressed a want - and so did Christianity - none meet any from God; Buddhism - all the same. And all reserved for this age to discourse or discuss, which has, and mark it well, for its part, scepticism or doubting of everything - at least as to the past.

"Knowing the future!" Ah! how well! It is "peace by political economy"; to be sure! It seems all to me singularly superficial. The most direct approach to scepticism I cannot again lay my hand on. But the history is the mere outside, without not only God but even high, conscientious, motives in man, or the pressure of any moral sentiment. "A state of civilisation" explains, not a common external state, but all. If so, what then is man? There is, in none of these men, the sense that conscience can be acted on and elevated. It and Reason can act to judge God! I do not want to suspend the moral faculty, but it is not, in its present state, a competent judge of all - if so why is Mr. Leckey setting right the conscience of "sixty centuries"? See volume 1, page 309.

272 See also volume 2, page 30, how connection with the State is insisted on for the individual and the world. See too page 95, as to what "facts" always are, and see as to causes Julian, pages 289-291.

In result the whole book proves, on its own showing, that each age has had its own peculiar way of judging - never the truth; this age doubts of all, and has found out, not i.e., only its own subjective ground of judgment, that it is incapable - that man is incapable of finding out the truth, and of course thinks itself right; but that is only the particular character of the age. A suicidal book! As to a "whole being greater than its parts," even physical science shows the folly of this reasoning beyond mere extension, for chemists say whenever gases etc. unite, the whole is always less than the component parts, whereas the whole is equal to its parts. This is mere feebleness of human language. I have elsewhere shown that mathematics teach, not that "one is one" as has been said, but that change of form does not change extension - and uses means to show equality when it is in different forms. But in chemistry change of form does change extension - change of form meaning really something else. The repulsive force of certain particles is taken away by combination, we know not how; but it shows the folly of applying one order of ideas to another.