THE MIRACULOUS IN
LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
IT is with grave hesitation and diffidence that I venture to intervene in the present controversy upon the relation of the Clergy and the Creeds and the limits of legitimate variation of the interpretation of them. I do so because it seems to me that the Church of England has reached a point of critical importance in this particular matter, and that a person who, like myself, has given much study for a considerable number of years to the question, is bound to show his hand and make such contribution as he can to its elucidation. I should probably have abstained from writing if it had not been for Dr. Sanday's pamphlet, recently published, in which he criticises the Open Letter of the Bishop of Oxford to his clergy. And though I propose to make some remarks at the outset which refer rather to the controversy in the newspapers than to Dr. Sanday's pamphlet, I have this publication mainly in view. Before going further I should wish to say certain things of Dr. Sanday himself. There can be no question that he is one of the most distinguished persons in the University of Oxford, the possession of whom, as professor, would enable any university to speak with its enemies in the gate. He has held up before us in Oxford since 1883, when he returned here, the loftiest ideal of hard work, and wide learning, and single-hearted desire for truth. I have also a closer relation to him, in that he is a loved and honoured colleague in the Chapter of this Cathedral. If, therefore, I venture to criticise his pamphlet with some freedom in what follows, I hope that what I say here now will be borne in mind throughout. Though I find myself in profound and fundamental difference from Dr. Sanday, I yield to no one in my reverence for his powers and achievements. But I am [3/4] also closely bound by various ties to Bishop Gore. I think that in the present crisis it has fallen to him to sustain a difficult and unpopular position, and as I am profoundly convinced that he is, in the main, right, I do not feel myself justified in holding my peace. The questions involved are, doubtless, too many and too difficult for adequate treatment in a pamphlet, and I am hoping in the near future to deal with them more comprehensively, but it seems desirable to say what follows now.
Before approaching the questions which Dr. Sanday's pamphlet raises I think it desirable to say a few words upon certain more general questions which have come to light in the controversy. It is charged against the Bishop, that he himself in earlier years innovated in theological matters, and gave pain and anxiety to people like Dr. Liddon; modern writers are now doing a similar thing in other departments of theology: and he is held to be precluded by his earlier attitude from criticising recent innovations. It appears to me that a clear view of the events of 1890 makes this ground, at any rate, of condemnation of his action untenable. I have some right to speak on this matter. It was my privilege to see much of Dr. Liddon in his later years. He often found it difficult to sleep at night, and he thought it an advantage to take a late walk between 10 P.M. and midnight. When he was in residence here I walked in the Christ Church meadow with him night after night at these unearthly hours, and it is hardly necessary to say that he talked of matters which were much in his mind. After a certain time, when he found that I was inclined to follow Gore, he ceased to discuss questions of Biblical criticism, but this did not occur until I had become thoroughly cognisant of his own point of view and of his objections to Gore's Essay in Lux Mundi. I am certain, from his own repeated assertions, that he never thought that Gore's opinions, much as he deplored them, amounted to heresy. There were two points which he most strenuously opposed in the Lux Mundi Essay: 1, the rejection of the traditional view of the authorship of the Old Testament books; 2, the view of our Lord's human knowledge. Dr. Liddon was a man with a very strong conviction of principles and a relentless logic. He held that if our Lord alluded, for instance, [4/5] to Daniel and Moses as the author of particular books, such an allusion contained the verdict of omniscience on the subject. Any modification, therefore, of these views was an attack upon the infallibility of Christ, and imperilled the authority of God Himself. He told me once, in one of these evening conferences, that if he were driven to think that the book of Daniel were not by Daniel the prophet, he should be compelled to doubt the Providence of God. It is noticeable that Renan refers precisely to this point in his account of his change of faith (Souvenirs de mon enfance, p. 302); he argues that if Daniel is pseudepigraphous, the whole position of the Church is undermined. But Dr. Liddon was too good a theologian not to know that such a view of Holy Scripture as his own was not embodied in any authoritative document of the Church of England or any other Church. It might be deplorable to reject it, but it was not heretical.
Dr. Liddon's view of our Lord's knowledge, as may be seen from the passage on the subject in the eighth Bampton Lecture, was similarly governed by logical considerations. If our Lord was Divine, He was omniscient; if omniscient, He was incapable of limited or erroneous statement: therefore any statement of His upon any subject must be taken as final, and any assertion of limitation of knowledge as an exception. His statement, for instance, about the Day of Judgment did not describe a condition of limited knowledge, but a deliberate limitation on that point only. But here again Liddon was unable to accuse Gore of heresy. The view he upheld was not universally accepted by theologians; and the authority to whom he ascribed preponderant weight, Dr. Pusey, had himself differed from Liddon's exposition in his Bampton Lectures. Dr. Pusey had wished that the passage on our Lord's Human Knowledge should be modified. Dr. Liddon felt unable to do this, and in consequence Dr. Pusey asked to have all reference to his name omitted from the Preface to the Bampton Lectures. It is in my memory that Dr. Liddon told me this: the evidence for its truth, independently of my memory, still exists. There is no doubt that Dr. Liddon and Mr. Gore differed profoundly on these two points: but neither of them involved the restatement of any article of the Creed, [5/6] or the rejection of any authoritative pronouncement by the Church. It is therefore absurd to urge that Mr. Gore's attitude in 1890 contradicts the attitude of the Bishop of Oxford in 1914. No one has been more consistent in his affirmations and negations than the Bishop of Oxford. He affirmed in 1890 propositions which were startling, and which were freely called heretical by the imperfectly informed; this does not disqualify him from condemning propositions which are in appearance at any rate in contradiction to the Creeds, and which would have been regarded as heretical by almost all Christians from the time of the Apostles till the present day.
A second point upon which it seems well to offer some general remarks is the relation of sincerity as a mental state to the presentation of truth. If we look at things broadly in the light of practical experience, it is obvious that the sincerity of the preacher is no guarantee of the truth of his doctrine. All the preachers of impossible fads are terribly sincere. The people who believe that Bacon wrote Shakespeare, or that the English are the Lost Ten Tribes, are sincere enough; but their sincerity gives no weight to their arguments. Nor again does sincere belief justify men always in declaring it. Suppose, for instance, I sincerely, believe that my neighbour, who is a stockbroker, cannot be an honest man, my sincerity gives me no right whatever to denounce him. If I have case enough against him to force him to prosecute me for libel, I may be doing a service to my country by denouncing him: but my sincerity will not save me, and ought not to save me, from disaster in the Courts, if I have a weak case. He has his rights too, which my sincere belief in his rascality cannot affect. Indeed, we may go further. My sincere belief may be absolutely true in fact, but I have still no right to proclaim it unless I can justify it. People talk sometimes as if the sincerity of one's conviction proved the truth of one's case: in ordinary circumstances it is quite irrelevant: a man may be sincerely convinced, and yet either incapable of proving his position, or actually wrong. In these circumstances he will be well advised if he keeps his convictions to himself.
This does not mean that a man's sincerity has no bearing [6/7] on his public activity; and it is necessary to consider this point more carefully. Let us suppose that the Church Association, in order to spread its principles, organises a body of persons who are prepared to go and lecture on the tenets of the society, and especially on the errors of the Church of Rome. Now let us suppose that Mr. A., a lecturer for the Association, studies the question of the Infallibility of the Pope, and becomes profoundly convinced that the Papal claims in this respect are justified. He is so completely sure that his conclusions are right that he feels no hesitation in continuing to lecture for the Association and in receiving his stipend for his work. He is sure that the real interest of the Association is in the propagation of truth, rather than in the maintenance of any particular doctrine, and therefore he does not resign his office. He is aware that he is contradicting one of the central tenets he has agreed to defend, but he consoles himself with the thought that the people who listen to him will be getting fuller truth than if he had maintained the thesis of the Association. There is no doubt what would happen, as soon as the executive officers of the Association found it all out. They would dismiss Mr. A., and tell him to be thankful that they had not prosecuted him: and there is no doubt that all ordinary Englishmen would agree with their action; partly from the facts of the case, partly from their extreme dislike of Romanism. If Mr. A. argued: "I have a high and austere sincerity which belongs to me as a scholar, and which compels me to set out the highest truth I can find: it is you that are really deceiving the public, by insisting on the propagation of views which I have convinced myself are false:" there would be a complete answer. The officers of the Association would reply: "This has nothing to do with us. You accepted a position in our employ in order to propagate certain opinions which you said you held at the time. You say now you have changed your mind about them. But the Association has not changed its mind. We quite admit that you have arrived sincerely at your present conclusions: but you cannot teach any more in our name. We do not want you to teach opinions in which you no longer believe: but also we do not want you to teach in our name opinions in which we do not believe. So we must [7/8] part." I think that any ordinary man would agree that this decision is right and reasonable, and that the matter is one in which the ordinary man is a competent judge.
It would appear that Dr. Sanday himself recognises limits beyond which it is impossible to go and retain Church membership (p. 10); if this is so, the difference between him and Bishop Gore is one of degree and not of kind.
If in any case a different view is urged, it will be because the circumstances of the case are so special, or the nature of the opinions so peculiar, that ordinary canons of reasonableness do not apply.
I understand that Dr. Sanday's contention is that Christianity, especially in regard to certain articles of the Creed, is a case in which such ordinary judgments of ordinary men do not apply outside the limits he has laid down (p. 10). The Creeds, he maintains, are "summaries of Scripture which derive their authority in the last resort from Scripture" (p. 7); and the recitation of them "is a corporate act, which must be broad and comprehensive, and cannot be made to serve at the same time as a minute criterion of the faith of individuals" (p. 8). The main argument of his pamphlet is concerned with the former point, and it is this with which I shall chiefly deal. The Creeds are, as he says, summaries of Scripture: they are therefore affected by the critical processes applied to Scripture. With this statement I suppose no one, or, at any rate, very few people, would disagree. If it could be decisively shown that the record, let us say, of the Resurrection were false, the affirmation of it by the Church in the Creed could not save it. A ruinous blow would have been dealt at the authority of the Church as a teacher of truth; but that could not be helped: the Church cannot make true that which is, in point of fact, false. The area of discussion is therefore transferred from the Creeds to the Holy Scripture, and the real issue before us is the exact degree in which the historical statements in the Gospels are credible. This is a serious and complex subject of investigation, and I have no intention of attempting to cover the whole ground. I propose only to deal with those points in it which Dr. Sanday and the Bishop of Oxford have raised.
It appears that Dr. Sanday in his criticism of the Bishop [8/9] emphasizes two main positions in regard to which the Bishop, in his view, has failed to conceive the problem rightly. In speaking of the historical statements in the Creeds, and, behind these, in the Gospels, the Bishop, says Dr. Sanday (p. 8), has overlooked "the difference of times." "Creeds composed fifteen, sixteen, seventeen centuries ago cannot possibly express with literal exactitude the mind of to-day. And, conversely, the mind of to-day cannot possibly correspond with literal exactitude to the wording of the Creeds." I do not think I should be forcing Dr. Sanday's words further than they go, if I assume that he would apply the same principle to the records underlying the Creeds. Dr. Sanday criticises the Bishop for drawing a distinction between the Old and New Testaments: this distinction he condemns. "One of the determining stages in the history of my own thought has been the gradually growing conviction that it is impossible to draw any clear line of demarcation between the New Testament and the Old; nay, that the New Testament must be even more liable to the same kind of influences as the Old, because, whereas the Old Testament writers shaped their own methods of writing history for themselves, the New Testament writers followed throughout the model of the Old Testament; their minds were full of the Old Testament narratives, and there was a natural tendency to assimilate their own narratives to them " (p. 13). I will venture to offer some few comments on both these points. I cannot refrain from remarking in passing how very paradoxical this statement appears to me, if I rightly understand it. As it stands it seems to mean that from the historical point of view the Old Testament is superior to the New. I can hardly imagine that Dr. Sanday does mean this.
I. Let us ask first why it is that lapse of time affects statements such as those under discussion. We may say that it may do so in two ways. If the chain of evidence which connects us with the facts is broken, or if the links which bound an alleged fact to others at the time of its occurrence are few, lapse of time makes it increasingly difficult to determine what actually happened. The history of every age loses gradually a vast number of facts: larger and more dominant events rise out in increasing isolation, and all the [9/10] myriads of links which bound them to the general life of mankind in their day disappear. This is not, however, the sort of effect of lapse of time which concerns us now. With lapse of time comes what Dr. Sanday justly calls the change of "intellectual context" (p. 8). "The world is conceived in different fashion, under different categories and principles, and the old language which men once used of it ceases to be used. Men express themselves differently." It is important here to be sure that we are stating the case accurately. That which changes is the view of the facts, the theory by which they are accounted for. If in any case the statement of the facts is in itself an assertion of the theory, then when the theory changes, theory and alleged facts disappear together; in other cases—and these are the commonest—change of theory makes no difference to the facts alleged: in these cases the same facts will be alleged, only the form of words in which they are described may be changed. Illustrations of this are supplied in hundreds by Natural Science. The facts and events observed are described in new words, but the facts themselves are unchanged. However primitive and unreasonable the explanation of an eclipse may be in any given period, the phenomena observed by the untutored savage and the trained astronomer are precisely the same. And we may express the same truth in a rather different way, from a different point of view. If the men of a given age have observed rightly and report an event which really happened, the report is true for all time and the opposite is false. An event, when it occurs, decides an alternative or series of alternatives in one particular way, and even the gods, as Agathon said, cannot undo what has once taken place. All kinds of theories may be held about it, all kinds of explanations given of it but these make no difference to the event itself. We read that Charles I was beheaded on a particular day in January in the year 1649. If that is true, it destroys all other possibilities. There was no a priori reason why it should have happened on this day rather than another; but when once the event had taken place, there is only one statement in regard to the date of it which is or ever can be true to this, lapse of time makes no difference whatever.
It is true that the memory of a given event may disappear, [10/11] or people may hold wrong beliefs about it, or make erroneous statements, deliberately or otherwise: but this again makes no difference to the event. A trivial illustration will show what I mean; it is important that the illustration should be trivial, so that the issue should not be complicated by remoter considerations. I am sitting in my room writing, at 6.30 P.M. on May 14, 1914. This is the only statement that is or ever can be true of me at this moment. There is a ring at the bell, which my servant answers. The visitor asks, "Is the Dean in?" If my servant says "No," the visitor is deceived. And he is deceived just as completely, whatever may be the cause of the servant's false statement. It makes no difference to the visitor whether the servant deliberately lies, or is honestly mistaken, or has a racial tendency to inaccuracy. These are various reasons why he made his statement wrongly, but they do not mitigate its complete falsity, or the complete deception of the man to whom it is made.
These distinctions which I think are real and indeed obvious appear to me to have been overlooked by Dr. Sanday and those who think with him, and thus in my view this particular criticism upon Bishop Gore breaks down. In all the assertions in the Creed there is an element of sheer history, which must be true or false: they vary in their intrinsic strangeness, and in their relation to the ordinary world. Each must be dealt with on its merits if we are to proceed scientifically. I will try to make my contention plain. In the Creed we assert that the Lord was born of the Virgin Mary. This is a summary statement of what is indirectly but plainly affirmed in the Gospels, that He was conceived and born without the usual physical antecedent conditions. Now this is certainly a strange and startling assertion: but it is not a theoretical statement at all; it is an assertion of a fact in perfectly intelligible terms, and it must be either true or false. Lapse of time makes no difference whatever: if the statement was true when it was first made, it is true now in exactly the same sense. Different theories may be invented to explain it. If it was not true when made, different reasons may account for the error: it may have been a deliberate falsehood, or a misunderstanding, or a piece of oriental imagery, or a [11/12] theoretical deduction cast in historical form. But these possibilities are all irrelevant to its truth or falsity as fact: in all four cases it is false in point of fact. People talk as if the essential falseness of a false statement were somehow mitigated if the person making it were not deliberately lying. I submit with deference that this is confusion of thought. It may mitigate our judgment of the authority if we find that he was honestly deceived or using language in a metaphorical sense: it can make no difference in our estimate of the content of his statement. The Birth of Jesus Christ was in the ordinary course of nature or not. In the former case those who affirm otherwise are simply wrong, whatever their motives or excuses; and all who, on their authority, have believed otherwise are deceived. Lapse of time makes a difference to theories of the world; that is why certain assertions are stranger and more startling in our age than in others: but, strictly speaking, lapse of time makes no difference to statements of historical fact; according as they were originally true or false historically, so they remain.
The assertion of the Virgin Birth is, as I have said, a comparatively simple statement: it affirms the absence of certain normal conditions. The other articles of the Creed upon which discussion has rightly tended to concentrate are more complex: I mean, of course, the assertions, The third day He rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven. In both cases there is a basis of assertion which must be true or false, but in both cases there is also an element of interpretation. The Resurrection-story starts in all four cases from the empty tomb: details vary, but this at any rate is certain, that those who visited the tomb said that the Lord's Body was not there. This is a statement which must be true or false: if they looked in and overlooked the Body, or if they endeavoured to express a conviction that His life prevailed over death by saying that the Body was not in the tomb, or again if they deliberately said it was not there when it was, their statement considered historically is simply false. We may estimate them ethically in different ways according as we explain their making such a statement on different grounds; but they are false witnesses in point of fact. So far there is [12/13] nothing involving the supernatural in what they said: the empty tomb might be explained in a variety of natural ways. Lapse of time makes no difference so far. But, of course, the story does not end with the assertion of the empty tomb. It asserts the occurrence of certain appearances, and bears with it a particular interpretation of them. As regards the appearances themselves, the evidence of their actual occurrence is surely very good—as good, let us say, as the evidence for the Crucifixion. It is true that the Crucifixion occurred on one day and within a limited number of hours, and the appearances are stated to have occurred on various days and in the experience of different observers. But it cannot reasonably be doubted that it was a primary conviction of the first believers that these appearances had really taken place. Being many, the evidence is less concentrated than that for the Crucifixion. But it is of the same sort. The early Christians as undoubtedly believed that those who affirmed that they had seen and spoken with Christ after His death spoke truly as that He had died upon the Cross. The actual assertion is that certain persons saw certain things. If they merely thought wrongly that they saw, if, that is, they were the victims of subjective delusion, or if they said falsely that they had seen certain things, the whole story is false. Nothing happened: but certain allegations, for whatever reason, were made in the opposite sense. At this point we begin to reach the stage of interpretation. The Apostles seized upon these appearances, taken together with the empty tomb, and made the return of Jesus Christ from the grave the central feature of their teaching. As to this there is really no doubt at all. They saw in this Resurrection from the dead a complete reversal of the Crucifixion and a complete justification of their judgment of Christ. Moreover, they held that it was a real return from the grave: in some sense which they do not explain they believed that the Lord's Body had not seen corruption, but that it had been changed in such a way as to adapt it to a different mode of life. It is more than probable that they conceived the natural changes of the body in a way which modern thought would reject, and it is fortunate that they made no attempt to explain their ideas on the subject: if they had, [13/14] they would certainly have been unconvincing to the modern mind. The modern mind is at liberty to give any interpretation it can to their statements. But if in so doing it feels bound to reduce the appearances alleged to subjective illusion, or to class them with ordinary ghost stories, it is making a fundamental division, and not a division of interpretation only, between what it accepts and what the Apostles taught. It would take us too far afield to show in detail how deep this division is. The Apostles were convinced that the Lord had returned from the dead, the same and not the same, and upon this their preaching turned. This is not a simple matter of mere direct statement like the presence or absence of a corpse in a tomb at a particular time: it implies a summary of a number of phenomena: it is capable of a variety of interpretations in physical terms: but it is incompatible with the assertion of physical corruption combined with subjective visions. No lapse of time, or change of outlook, will make one of these complex assertions expressible in terms of the other.
The Ascension presents us with yet another different combination of asserted fact and interpretation. The central fact asserted is that the Lord, whom St. Luke tells us they had seen at intervals during forty days, left them on one particular occasion in such circumstances as to make it certain that His departure was final: and the finality was declared to them by such action as would certainly carry this meaning. There is no doubt that they conceived heaven as a place above the vault of the sky: and there is no doubt that we no longer hold this view with the intelligence, though it is difficult as it can ever have been to conceive of existence except under the form of space. We know that the ancient view of heaven cannot be made to fit in with any intellectual interpretation of the universe, but it is probable that anyone who seriously contemplates departing and being with Christ as a possibility for himself is forced to conceive of such intercourse under the only forms in which we know of intercourse, i.e. in terms of space. Our difference from the Apostles is not that we have substituted a scientific conception of heaven for an unscientific one, but that if we talk or think about it at all we must use words to which we assign either no definite meaning or a symbolic meaning. [14/15] What had to be expressed was that the Lord was departing finally—not into the place or condition of the dead, but into union with the Father in heaven. Any action must have failed to express with precision the meaning of such a return: the action described would certainty have carried conviction to the mind of the Apostles: and it may be doubted, in view of the inveterate habit of religious phraseology whereby the Presence of God is sought for above, whether any other symbolic action could have been equally successful at any period. What is positively asserted is that "as they looked He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight." It may be said that this is impossible, or that they thought themselves bound to provide a pendant to the story of Elijah, or that they expressed in this way their idea that they would see Him no more. In all these cases the statement is historically false. But it is not proved to be historically false because the Apostles thought of heaven as a place beyond the vault of the sky.
I have now considered briefly three articles of the Creed. It is surely clear that they involve different considerations, and cannot be either accepted or rejected upon precisely the same grounds. So far as they are based upon assertions of historical fact they fall within the historical order: the experiences alleged must either have happened or not: and no change of speculative theory can make that to have happened which did not, or vice versa. They have all one feature in common, that they involve what we call the supernatural: we shall return to this point later.
II. Dr. Sanday condemns the Bishop for distinguishing between the Old Testament and the New in words quoted above. This seems to me to be a very remarkable criticism. I have already noted what is probably an imperfect statement of his views rather than a very startling paradox: but the general position is not, to my mind, much less remarkable. In the Old Testament we have a collection of historical books, a collection of prophetic writings, and a collection of miscellaneous writings. No one knows who wrote any of the historical books, and, if the ordinary views of them are valid, it is certain that they stood a long way off the times they described. The prophetic books are attached [15/16] to definite names, though criticism does not admit all the current ascriptions. The third collection of miscellaneous books contains anonymous books such as the Chronicles, and books which criticism usually regards as pseudepigraphous, such as the Proverbs and the Canticles. In other words, the history depends largely upon unknown authors at a very considerable distance from the facts they describe. Also the text depends upon MSS. which are many centuries later than the date of the composition of the books.
When we turn to the New Testament, everything is different. We have in the first place a number of genuine Epistles from one of the most prominent teachers in the early Church. These are not documents without context: they belong in all cases to a definite situation, ascertainable to a very considerable degree of accuracy; and revealing the existence and the operations of a society which has definite ideas and purpose, and a definite sense of its own existence and personality. Then we have an account of the early days of the Church which some distinguished scholars, at any rate, regard as proceeding from St. Luke, and we have four accounts of the Life of our Lord which criticism has, somewhat reluctantly, driven back to a date within very measurable distance of the events affirmed to have recurred. These appear to me to be differences so fundamental in character, that to ignore them would seem like ignoring the difference between the writings of Cicero and Caesar as evidence for their times, and the writings of Livy as evidence for the period of the Kings of Rome. I do not say that much of the history of the Old Testament does not emerge successfully from critical examination: but I think with the Bishop, that "a great part of the historical narratives of the Old Testament is not strict history, but gives us what St. Gregory of Nyssa admirably calls 'ideas in the form of narration'" (Sanday, p. 12). And I do not think we have always the machinery at hand to enable us to tell when this has happened. A conviction that this element exists in the Old Testament does not enable us to go through it accepting and rejecting with security. We know too little of the writers and the circle in which they lived. But in the New Testament we do know something definite of the writers and the circle in which they lived; [16/17] we know the way in which they used the Old Testament, and the way in which their experiences transformed their conception of it and their expectations of it: it would seem to me, therefore, that no account of the New Testament and its teaching can possibly be trustworthy that does not allow for these deep and far-reaching differences.
It is true, and it is important to call attention to it, that the existing state of discussion upon some of the New Testament books, especially the Synoptic Gospels, affects the estimate of the evidence somewhat seriously. A large number of scholars, in my opinion wrongly, reject the Johannine authorship of the Fourth Gospel. On the other hand few, if any, assign it to the late date which was usual in the middle of the last century. It is supposed by many to have some connection with St. John or some other disciple of the Lord, but to represent the floating tradition of a school rather than the report of an actual observer. So again the analysis of the Synoptic Gospels, even if the Second Gospel is really St. Mark's, tends to separate us from actual contact with our Lord Himself. St. Mark was not an eye-witness: the author of Q is unknown. Other anonymous documents are probably buried in the First and Third Gospels, and possibly also in St. Mark. Instead therefore of being in face of certain responsible writers to whose opportunities of information we can assign a more or less positive value, the Gospels are represented to us as an early crystallisation of much floating tradition, the origin and value of which it is very hard to estimate. It is obvious that those who have been persuaded of the truth of some such theory have a great advantage in any argument as to the contents of the books. If a particular book is ascribed to a particular author, say St. Luke, there is some limit to conjecture in regard to him. Though our knowledge of him is very imperfect, yet we have some knowledge. We know to some extent the circle he moved in, we have some knowledge of his character and ways of thought. He tells us himself that he used pre-existing documents in order to make his Gospel: if, then, by critical ingenuity we can discover the outlines of these in the existing book, we know that he selected them and gave them his imprimatur, even if we do not know who first put them down in writing. [17/18] But in proportion as we approximate to the idea of an aggregate of anonymous fragments joined together more or less loosely, the easier it is to give conjectural explanations of difficult incidents. Dr. Sanday does not tell us in his pamphlet what his opinions are upon the subject of the authorship of the books: hitherto his weight has been upon the conservative side. I do not complain of this: I recognise that it is impossible in a pamphlet to enter upon so wide a discussion, and I am not proposing here to do so: but I have a strong impression that unless it is possible to dissociate the documents from particular authors, the very free reconstruction of their contents which is required by Dr. Sanday's view of the miraculous will not hold water. Dr. Sanday lays great emphasis in his exposition upon parallels with the Old Testament and other pre-Christian literature. "I am becoming more and more inclined to think that we are apt to exaggerate the length of time which is required for the growth of such stories [as that of the Ascension] where the moulds in which they are to be thrown are the common property of a whole community" (p. 15). These are influences of the sort which would seriously affect the casual and anonymous writer: one can imagine easily the gradual growth of books formed on these principles. But they would surely be very unlike the Gospels: and it is hard to understand how serious men, who knew their special function to be that of witnesses, could produce books of which this could be a plausible explanation. The real issue is the general credibility of the Gospels. If they are casual aggregates of loose traditions, we can treat them with any degree of freedom: but the more definitely we think that the writers were responsible men who had been in near relation with the Lord, the more difficult it is to admit of an extensive element of legend in them. The question is forced upon us, Why do they differ in so startling a way from the Apocryphal Gospels? Why is their use of the supernatural, their conception of Christ and the surrounding figures, so sane and coherent? Why is it that modern reconstructions of the Gospels are so curiously parallel to the Apocryphal Gospels in their attempt to force the Gospel-story into some current scientific or metaphysical form? The real source of the [18/19] trouble is that they all testify to the occurrence of events which we call supernatural.
There is only one of these supernatural events, the Resurrection, which they made, from the first, an essential element in their teaching. But there is no doubt that the writers of the Gospels saw no difficulty in the occurrence of such events. It is of great importance to note here the relation of the supernatural as conceived by them to the normal order of the world. With some few exceptions the affirmations of the supernatural disturb the normal order very slightly. The records affirm the occurrence of events which involve no explosive intrusion upon natural order: there was an element of innovation, according to St. Luke, in our Lord's Birth, yet He entered simply and naturally into human life, grew in wisdom and stature like other people: in the majority of the other cases the miracle consists in the re-establishment of the normal order in an exceptional way. The whole New Testament assumes the nearness or naturalness of the supernatural, if one may so say, and it is hard to believe that a position so unlike the ordinary view and so coherent should appear in works which have drifted into shape from a variety of unknown sources. The view of the supernatural which we find in the Gospels is a coherent thing, not philosophically articulated, but intelligible if based upon experience. There is plenty of room for assuming developments of all kinds and all degrees of imaginativeness if the Gospels are conceived in isolation from the society which has a mission to the world; if they are written by people with a sense of responsibility to a society of witnesses, it is impossible to apply to them the rough and ready principle that all statements involving what is called supernatural may safely be disregarded. It is this question of the supernatural that is the real trouble; apart from it the larger number of the so-called critical questions would never have been raised at all: to this point I must now address myself. It cannot I think be denied that the wondrous wealth of theories and analyses of the Gospel-story are governed by the desire to express the whole history in terms of ordinary experience. The real question is, how far this mode of experience is adequate. It is in this connection that I find myself in most serious difference from Dr. Sanday.
 The word nature is haunted by serious ambiguity. As applied to the world it sometimes means the created order apart from man, and sometimes the created order including man. As applied to man, nature means, in some contexts, man as he ought not to be, in others, man as he might be and ought to be. We say for instance that a magnificent mountain is a work of nature, a magnificent cathedral a work of man. Yet the study of nature includes man. So again we say that sin is characteristic of human nature, and also a deflection from true human nature. Natural law again covers the observed uniformities of the material world, and at times is construed as excluding freedom of will. These instances are sufficient to show the necessity of care when any point is discussed involving this word or its derivatives. All the uses of the term are justifiable, but it is important to employ only one in any given discussion. Though there is so much variableness in the particular applications of the word, it does not follow that there is nothing like a central meaning. Perhaps we might say that the term usually implies a system of some kind, moving on some principle. Thus the particular application of the term will vary with the elements included in the system. When man is contrasted with nature, for instance, the intention is to view the world in abstraction from the special activities of man. When he is included in it, the intention is either to treat humanity on its material side, on the side on which it is akin to the world of matter and motion, or to take a wider view of the system in which we live, including in it the world of matter and motion together with the modes of activity characteristic of man.
Dr. Sanday has laid stress on the distinction between the phrases supra naturam and contra naturam. For a large number of the miracles affirmed in the New Testament he finds an explanation in misunderstanding, inaccurate observation, deliberate improvement of real occurrences. Some, such as those claimed by St. Paul, he puts "at once . . . under the head supra naturam" (p. 24). "A tiny group" contains stories which in his view are contra naturam. This group includes stories such as the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which he regards as "representing a real event," but modelled on "the stories of multiplied food in the Old Testament narratives of Elijah and Elisha" (p. 25). When this and other nature-miracles which "are still easier" (p. 26), [20/21] are thus explained, we have only "the Supernatural Beginning and the Supernatural Ending of the Lord's Earthly Career" (p. 26). These he regards as contra naturam. It is not very easy to say precisely what is the effect of this conclusion. He states with emphatic vigour his "entire and strong belief in the central reality of the Supernatural Birth and the Supernatural Resurrection. No one believes in these things more strongly than I at least wish to believe in them" (p. 28). On the other hand he adds, "although I believe emphatically in a Supernatural Birth and a Supernatural Resurrection and in all that follows from these beliefs, I know that is not all that the Church of the past has believed. I must not blink this fact. I hope that I believe all that the Church's faith has stood for; but I could not, as at present advised, commit myself to it as literal fact" (p. 28). It is clear that he rejects whatever in the New Testament is, in his view, contra naturam: it is not clear, at least to me, what is the meaning of supra naturam, or in what sense he holds a "supernatural Birth and supernatural Resurrection." On p. 23 there is a paragraph in which the distinction is to some extent explained. He distinguishes events "that are supra naturam—exceptional, extraordinary, testifying to the presence of higher spiritual forces—and events, or alleged events, that are contra naturam, or involve some definite reversal of the natural physical order." In the light of this passage it would appear that the Birth and Death were, physically speaking, like those of anyone else. The Birth was the result of the usual physical antecedents, the Death had the usual physical consequences, in the way of corruption, and the like. This position I understand, though I do not share it. But I do not see in what sense it is possible, on this hypothesis, to talk of a supernatural Birth or a supernatural Resurrection. The Birth, on this showing, was the Birth of an extraordinary Person, who afterwards displayed high spiritual forces: but there is nothing supernatural about it. The appearances after Death testify to the continuity of personality through Death, but it is surely an exaggeration to talk of them as a supernatural Resurrection. The appearances would be exceptional and extraordinary as being connected with an exceptional and extraordinary person: they could not have [21/22] the decisive significance which St. Paul, for instance, assigns to the Resurrection. I suggest with all respect that natura, in the phrase contra naturam, means simply the uniformities of matter and motion, and that in the other phrase the meaning is different but not defined.
The difficulty as to the precise meaning of nature haunts all the controversy over miracle, and can only be fully met by considering quite independently of this or that alleged miracle the general question of the relation of God to nature. No one, I suppose, would contend that a miraculous event, if true, is devoid of all rationality. Many of the alleged miracles, say in the Apocryphal Gospels and in Legends of the Saints, are intrinsically absurd and purposeless, and the prevalence of this element in many stories of miracle leads to the assumption that it is the essence of a miracle to be absurd. But it is surely plain that no sane theology could ascribe to God action which is intrinsically absurd and pointless; a miracle such as God could be supposed to work would certainly have its rationality in the system governed by God. It would not necessarily satisfy tests based on a limited and abstract rationality; but it would not be irrational. This point is constantly overlooked by the critics of miracles. It is easy to show, what indeed no one disputes, that they contravene to some extent one particular and important set of observed uniformities; but that does not dispose of their claims unless it can also be shown that these uniformities are binding upon God, not merely as the habitual manifestation of His activities, but as limiting His Power and Will. The system in which the question of miracle is intelligible is a system in which the Creator is dealing with the created world: and if a less comprehensive system be assumed to be complete, even for the purposes of temporary convenience, the question of miracle is so far prejudged. It is notorious that the method of investigating the natural world which has prevailed for the last fifty or sixty years has omitted, and has been, in its own line, successful in omitting, all reference to the relation of the Creator to the world. The phenomena of the world have been treated as self-subsistent, and their uniformities as a final expression of the truth of things. That which contravenes [22/23] this conception of nature is largely regarded as impossible. Professor Huxley spoke as if the complete subjection of all mental and spiritual phenomena to the laws of matter and motion were merely a matter of time. Dr. Sanday, after giving explanations which satisfy him of various alleged miracles, speaks of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection as "one little submerged rock in our mental navigation of the universe" (p. 30). As if the whole question of the interpretation of the world turned upon these two stories. I cannot but think that he has approached the question by a wrong method, and if I were a critic writing about an ancient author, I should say "he knows nothing" of any serious assault upon the mechanical view of the natural world. Yet such assaults have been effectively delivered. It would seem doubtful whether the old mechanical theory, which is one determining principle of the critical treatment of the Gospel story throughout the whole of the nineteenth century, can be sustained in its old claim to supremacy. It fails, of course, to explain the miraculous, because it excludes anything of this kind from the first. But it also fails to explain all psychical phenomena, all the movement of history, and all that can be reasonably called religious. It is true, no doubt, that the processes of thought, for instance, involve physical motions which may be expressed in scientific formulae; but in this process of expression their peculiar psychical character disappears. There is a physical substratum to all human action of every kind, but no description of it in physical terms is complete. It is maintained at the present time by some distinguished students of natural phenomena, that a physical description is never exhaustive in any case where life is present. For various purposes it is convenient to concentrate attention upon the purely material aspect of the world, and present it as a closed system of mechanical cause and effect. Much valuable knowledge has been, and will continue to be, acquired in this way. But we do not reach the final truth of things, so far as that is possible to us, by this road. The whole system of things contains other elements than these, and there will always be aspects of the world which compel us to take these into consideration. Dr. Sanday has devised "explanations" of the miracles one by one till only two are left as "a submerged rock"; [23/24] but he does not seem to me to have raised the question whether the tests to which he has brought them were valid. The result of his analysis ought to be, in my opinion, that the world should be treated as a physical whole, and God should be conceived in an external indefinite relation to it, somewhat after the manner of Deism. Dr. Sanday has not moved to this result, but I cannot see that his premises leave him any real escape from it. I would urge that when we come to consider the constitution of the world from the point of view of religion—and that is the real meaning of all discussion of Christian miracle—we cannot be satisfied with anything but a religious explanation of any fact. Mechanism may be adequate at certain levels and for certain purposes, but it is never exhaustively true at any stage, and is definitely incomplete and misleading from the religious point of view. We look at the world of life; we talk of its evolution, and it is often convenient to speak of it as if it were a self-subsisting predetermined process: and this is all the easier, as we know lower life only from the outside. As I have already noticed, serious doubts have come to be entertained as to the adequacy of this conception even on this level. But it is certainly inadequate when human agency is introduced. Man is limited in his exercise of his activities, and for the most part merely controls to his own ends the forces that he finds at work. But though he uses their properties and confides in their regularity, he does things which, so far as we can see, nature does not do; and it has taken centuries to enable him to learn to do them. All this is perfectly familiar, but I am not aware of any successful explanation on purely physical grounds of the relation of man's activities to the forces of nature. These considerations point not to a complete solution of the question of miracles, but to a way of conceiving them which neither deprives them of their essential character, nor acquiesces in irrationality in regard to them. I have already called attention to a characteristic feature of most of the Gospel miracles, namely that they create the minimum of disturbance in the ordinary world of experience. Though they cannot, I believe, be explained in terms of known physical laws, they are as it were the acts of a Power that [24/25] knows how to use these laws. The action of man in dealing with the forces of nature in some sense resembles this, though it lacks the touch of creative power which these acts display. It is this familiar and careful relation to the ordinary conditions of the world which distinguishes the Gospel miracles sharply from those related in the Apocryphal Gospels, and in the legends of the Saints, and from some of those in the Old Testament.
A view of the world such as this seems to me required, not merely by the special problem of the Gospel miracles, but by the religious view of the relation of God to the world. From the point of view of religion all the history of the world, in general and in detail, runs back upon the creative activity of God. All other explanations of things, though convenient and conclusive in their way and for their special purpose, are inadequate when the religious element is taken into consideration. From such a point of view it may be maintained that acts of the miraculous kind are rare, or that evidence in particular cases is inadequate; but they cannot be ruled out as impossible, for to do this inevitably assigns an undue weight to that particular aspect of the world from which physical uniformities arise. All the trouble in this matter really comes from an incomplete application of the religious idea to experience—an incompleteness which must always end in a recalcitrant and uncomfortable Dualism.
It remains to offer a few remarks as to a class of Christians whose interests are apt to be somewhat neglected in discussions such as the present. In the Church at any given time there will be a class of learned scholars: there will be a class of persons who are not themselves learned, but who reflect, and aim at a comprehensive view of things, and are aware of the echoes of learned controversy: and there will be a class of persons, who are frankly unlearned in theology and metaphysics and criticism, and find their justification for believing in Christianity in the power of the traditional form of it to govern their lives, and give them assurance of contact with God. The first class is, of course, the smallest in numbers. It is needless to say how vitally important its existence is to the well-being of the Church, nor how essential it is that its operations should be free. But it has its [25/26] characteristic temptation. It is constantly tempted to claim the absolute right to decide, upon principles which it accepts at a particular time, the whole content of the faith. This claim is like that of a certain type of mid-Victorian artists to represent freely all subjects on the principle of Art for Art's sake: and it should be unhesitatingly rejected. Artists and scholars are only a special class in the human race, and their special claims must take their place with those of persons who are neither of these things. It is to the credit of English scholarship that it rarely forgets its responsibility for other men.
The second class contains, at certain social levels, a considerable number of individuals, and must always be a perplexity to any Church. It contains all the people—perhaps these are most often educated women—who are really looking seriously for a coherent view of things, but get very little help in the existing circumstances of the Church. It may be that they have never received an education adequate to their intellectual powers, or sufficient to enable them to find their way for themselves through the complicated questions of Theology. These are haunted by serious and real difficulties, and deserve the most careful consideration. But the same class includes also all those who are rather hastily called the "educated" or "intelligent" laity: many of whom have never read carefully any single book of the New Testament, or studied seriously any single question which the existence of religion involves, or taken any deliberate means to train or enlighten their habits of devotion. All this class, and it is a large one, lives, from necessity or choice, upon echoes and rumours: if it accounts for many empty pews in churches, its actual intellectual weight is slight: its affirmations and negations do not count for much in the decision of serious problems. Its temptation is to overrate its value to the world, to catch at the latest "thing," and to suppose that its blind conclusions, made under all sorts of half-conscious mental and moral influences, are the final utterances of modern science.
The third class consists of the majority of actual practising Christians. These are the people who really feel bound to follow the system of the Church as expressed, for instance, in the Christian year; who accept its great events, and find [26/27] their main help and guidance, their protection against temptation and sin, in the thoughts of the wondrous Incarnation of the Son of God, His atoning Death upon the Cross, His Resurrection, and the application of the virtue of His Passion to their own souls. The vast mass of Christian people, from the days of Christ till now, have lived in the strength of these convictions: any parish priest to-day knows that it is by means of them that he exercises any power he may have to reclaim sinners, to arouse penitence without producing despair, and to establish an ordinary plain life of dutiful obedience to God and charity to man. The main body of the Church will always be of this kind, and rightly so. Nothing is clearer in the New Testament than this, that Christianity was a force that moulded life, and that it did so because it was believed that the Son of God had in fact entered in a new way into human conditions and enlarged man's proper expectations of the capacities of human nature: He did things, which had previously been supposed impossible. This class of Christians has also its temptation. It is tempted to be unprogressive and obscurantist: it likes to repeat old formulae which have been successful in one set of conditions in completely different circumstances, and it has a natural suspicion of inquiry.
At the first glance, it would seem as if Christians of this sort can have no case at all against the small but important class of scholars, especially when these are reinforced by "intelligent opinion." They ought, one would be disposed to say, to leave all questions that lie outside their knowledge or interest, and accept what the learned tell them: how can they hope to resist successfully the decision of the experts? This is a very natural position to take; it sounds almost beyond dispute; it is maintained by many in England, and even more emphatically in Germany. But it cannot be denied that, plausible as it is, the plain man does not readily admit the claim to autocracy on the part of scholarship. It is important to endeavour to clear up this undoubted fact, and see what justification there is, if any, for it: it certainly has an important bearing on the present position.
If pressed on the subject, the plain man will almost [27/28] certainly give the wrong reasons for his refusal of allegiance. He will say that what was good enough for his fathers is good enough for him. He will fail to distinguish between the component elements of his creed: he will assume too hastily that the scale of values by which he measures them is valid for everybody, and raise the cry of the Faith in danger too soon and at the wrong place. It is because the plain man is always doing this, that his case seems often scarcely worth discussing. But he has a case which is true and vital, and, though it is difficult to state, an attempt must now be made to state it.
It needs no labour to show that over the whole ground of pure science the plain man's opinion is worthless: the more abstract and special the science the truer this rule will be found to be. In the exact sciences there is no room at all for any opinion but that of the expert: no mathematical question, for instance, can be decided by taking votes. But in proportion as we approach nearer to the type of discussion in regard to which voting is a rational method of procedure, the opinion of the average man increases in importance. For abstract method becomes dangerous if it is applied without qualification beyond a rather limited sphere: it is apt to produce a most persuasive appearance of cogent reasoning without the reality. The plain man hears the conclusion and rejects it, alleging all sorts of palpably absurd reasons for his opinion. He has no rational defence for his position: but if the scientific arguments are vitiated anywhere by an undue application of abstract principle, the plain man is likely to turn out in the end more nearly right than the experts think. Probably as time goes on experts will come and elaborately supply reasons for the plain man's view, or something very like it: then there will be a temporary reconciliation. But it is not likely to be more than temporary. The student is sure to take hold again of some perfectly true principle and work out all its consequences till, at last, the plain man hears of his results and condemns them. His reasoning is wrong, as has been said, but on the other hand it is unlikely that the conclusions of his enemy will be sustained without serious modification.
I venture to think that the history of the discussion in regard to the Creeds and their underlying basis the New Testament [28/29] illustrates these suggestions in a variety of ways. In the middle of the last century anyone who attempted to set out the prevalent opinion in critical circles of the authenticity of the Pauline Epistles and the Acts would probably have had to say that only four of the Epistles could be regarded as genuine, and that the Acts was a second-century work aiming at the reconciliation of the Pauline and Petrine conceptions of Christianity. These views received full and varied discussion: great learning and diligent research were applied to them: and they are now very largely discarded. The ordinary plain man refused to accept them at any time, for reasons of the kind he uses on such occasions. But the views which prevail now in the place of these are much nearer the traditional view than would have been thought possible fifty or sixty years ago. The critics were not charlatans. They were men of real learning, and the problem they attacked was a real and difficult one. It is difficult, at first sight, to find a comprehensive conception of Christianity in which the various elements represented in the New Testament are to find a place: and this difficulty was indefinitely increased by the fact that, for historical reasons, one aspect of St. Paul's teaching—justification by faith—had acquired disproportionate prominence. Moreover, the position is not at the end of the discussion the same for anyone as it was at the beginning: the new adjustment involves the discovery of new facts, and a new estimate of the relative value of the different elements in Christianity and a much more concrete view of the entry of the Church upon the world. It is this that causes the approximation to the traditional view. The army of unknown authors and interpolators which seemed necessary to bridge the gulf between the assumed original Christianity and the Christianity of the complete New Testament cease to have any real function when it is seen that the original Christianity was a more complex thing than had been assumed. The fault lies not so much in the method or in the explanations offered as in the unduly abstract statement of the problem: the theories fail because there was more in Christianity from the first than they assumed.
I cannot rid myself of the conviction that in this matter [29/30] history will repeat itself. It is certain, for instance, that there was an eschatological element in our Lord's teaching: it appears to me no less certain that the various efforts to trace the evolution of Christianity to this, on the hypothesis that it was the whole, are doomed to failure. It is certain again, that the Synoptists, at any rate Matthew and Luke, used pre-existing documents in the composition of their books: but I cannot doubt that such a theory as is presented in diagram form on page 363 of the Synoptic Studies edited by Dr. Sanday is several degrees removed from reality. I recognise the difficulty created by the miraculous element, and I am not sanguine—especially in view of the recent Report of the Committee on Faith-healing—as to the success of some suggestions of the explanations of certain alleged miracles. But I cannot but feel convinced that all attempts to restate the Gospel-story in terms of purely physical uniformity are hopeless. Much will be gained, as on previous occasions, by the discussion: but, unless I am much mistaken, the position which will emerge at the end will be far nearer to the traditional position than to any of its alternatives. These will recall our attention to elements that have been overlooked and under-estimated, but as theories of Christianity they will be all open to the objection that they are conjectural expositions of some single aspect of the problem; while the traditional position is more nearly adequate to the solidity and concreteness and many-sidedness of the religion of Christ. We have no reason to attempt to limit the freedom of inquiry, or to forbid the raising of fundamental issues: but we have a right to decline to recognise teaching as adequate to the message of Christianity, which claims to reconstruct it from the very bottom, on grounds that are no better than those we have been considering. We can reasonably admit large changes in the words in which we express our Faith, provided we retain the things signified: at the present time we seem to be invited to surrender the things, and, on condition of this surrender, to be allowed to keep the words.
If the arguments above are valid, the real question before the Church at the present is a deep and fundamental one: it is the question whether the world is to be construed upon a religious basis or not. Dr. Sanday would agree [30/31] with me, I am sure, that a religious principle is necessary if we are to express all we know about it adequately. But I must say with all deference that he seems to me to have adopted in his pamphlet an insecure and unstable position between the religious or spiritual and the mechanical view of the world. He believes deeply in the spiritual order of being, but he applies to all assertions of historical fact mechanical tests. In some cases these appear to work easily: in others—"the submerged rock"—they will not work at all, and then the whole position has to be constructed anew: it becomes necessary to appeal to the change in metaphysical theory and other similar causes, which are real enough but do not touch the assertions of historical fact. I cannot but think that this is an unsatisfactory procedure. If the world is spiritual at all it is spiritual primarily and throughout, and the spiritual meaning of any event is the only complete one. For special and limited reasons a mechanical explanation may be sufficient: but it is never final. Within the limits of mechanical uniformity a coherent view of the world is possible, provided all psychical and religious elements are ignored. Ultimately it will be necessary to choose between a mechanical and a spiritual view of the world's order: it will be found that the world as a spiritual order includes what we call miracle, and that the world conceived in the other way has no room for soul or God.