The Place of Temperament in Religion
[Extract from a Sermon preached before the Faculty and Students of the Divinity School at Philadelphia.]
THE variety which characterizes men's attitudes in religion is probably in the main due to diverse methods of training. We think thus or so about creeds, sacraments, prayers, maxims of conduct, and the like, because we are brought up to think thus or so about them. But allowance must also be made for that mysterious background of every man's life which we know as his natural temperament. The ancient physicians went very deeply into this matter, or thought that they did, for they not only classified men according to their temperaments, but they insisted that the temperaments themselves were occasioned by certain humours fluent throughout the body, and by their presence there determining that one man should be "sanguine," another "choleric," or another "melancholy," as the case might be. This theory has been long dead, though the nomenclature of it survives in the usages of common speech; and yet the doctrine of the four humours or temperaments may be said to have something that answers to it in the permanent constitution of human nature. As a matter of fact, there are four predominant ways of looking at things, four moods or tempers that always have prevailed and doubtless always will prevail to color the intercourse of man with man. There are born conservatives and born liberals; nay, more than this, there are born liberal-conservatives and born conservative-liberals.
These are the four temperaments. Get together any considerable number of people, and set them to discussing any question that touches upon human conduct, whether in the political or the social or the religious sphere, and every one of these several ways of looking at things will be found to be present and self-assertive. Under the names of "Right" and "Left," "Right-centre" and "Left-centre," these distinctive phases of thought and feeling figure continually in the political life of contemporary Europe. But although the names are modern, the things for which they stand are not. The fourfold classification is something more than a convenience; it points to differences rooted in the nature of things. To a mind of the conservative cast, only such measures approve themselves as have been tried and tested. What is venerable is, because venerable, authentic; newness is its own condemnation. "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." In tones so eloquent as these, and so persuasive, can Conservatism speak.
But Liberalism is not less ready. "Faith" is its watchword. Those, it reminds us, have been the heroes and leaders of mankind who have had eyes given them to discern the undiscovered continents of truth; who have cut loose from precedent and prescription, and have struck out courageously, forgetful of the past, and deaf to all old-time traditions, in the confident belief that safety lay in motion, and that immobility meant death. Moreover, Liberalism can quote Scripture too. Are we not, it confidently asks, the children of a God who declares that He makes "all things new," and is not our best hand-book of religion a New Testament?
But over and above the minds distinctly conservative and the minds distinctly liberal there are other minds so constituted that it is impossible for them not to recognize truth on both sides. They feel the charm, they admit the power, they know the value, of such things as ripeness and maturity; but, at the same time, they recognize all about them evidence incontrovertible that man can and does better himself in a thousand ways by waiting upon the untried and thrusting out valiantly into the deep. Of this intermediate multitude one half, let us say, grafts its faith in the new upon its confidence in the old, while the other half grafts its respect for the old upon its enthusiasm for the new. To the liberal conservative the old is his stand-by, the new is his half-grudging concession. To the conservative-liberal the new is his heart's desire, while the old is something which he has learned that it is dangerous to leave out of the account. These are the four temperaments of man, and of these is the whole earth overspread. What I have been describing is no accident of the passing century, no special characteristic of one race or people rather than another; it is a law of variation inbred in humanity as such. We are born so.
The religious and ecclesiastical results of temperament make an interesting study. The three great territorial divisions of the Church are her doctrine, her governance, and her worship. She is here on earth to teach, to shepherd, and to pray. The soul of man needs to be instructed, it needs to be sympathized with, it needs to be uplifted. Upon the Church's shoulders rests the duty of meeting this threefold need: she must make disciples, she must gather these disciples into a flock, she must lead the flock in the green pastures of devotion. As visible symbols, concrete emblems of this triple ministry, we have the pulpit, the pastoral staff, the altar; these concrete tokens help us to understand and appreciate the abstract terms, doctrine, discipline, and worship.
But the point to be especially emphasized is this--that when the four temperaments of man are brought into contact and connection with the three forms of the Church's activity, there ensue combinations so various and so intricate that the futility as well as the injustice of our current partisan vocabulary is made manifest at once. Take doctrine, for instance, and consider how delicately shaded off, one into another, are the differences that divide men in the Church.
The conservative is all for the "faith once delivered," "the sacred deposit," "the Catholic Creed." He insists, and insists rightly, that Christianity is what it is in virtue of certain disclosures made to man at definite epochs in history. He maintains, and maintains justly, that unless Christ's religion brings us a clearly articulated message with respect to subjects about which we should otherwise have remained ignorant to the end of time, we are no better off than the heathen, who may, if they choose, guess at truth as well as we.
On the other hand, the liberal makes much of a certain prophetic succession which is, to his mind, quite as important as any apostolic succession possibly can be to other minds. Why should we believe, he asks, that progress in the attainment of spiritual knowledge stopped short at the close of the first century, or, if not so soon as that, then on the day of the adjournment of the last of "the undisputed general councils "? Did not Christ promise his disciples the assistance of an ever-present spiritual Revealer who should guide them, little by little, into all the truth? So, then, the fresher any man's theology, and the more nearly up to date, the better. But "Stop! Stop!" cries the conservative-liberal; "this will never do. I grant you that ships are given sails in order that they may stand out to sea, trusting themselves to the winds of God; hut they are also equipped with anchors; and while I am willing and glad to start off with you on your voyage of discovery, I refuse to step on board until you show me some evidence of your having made provision against gales." While--last and wisest of them all--the liberal-conservative insists that neither is "fixity of interpretation" nor yet laxity of interpretation really "of the essence of the Creed," but that what is of its essence is a certain marvellous adaptability, whereby it comes to pass that the articles of the faith are never negatived, but only given a fuller, deeper, and more satisfying signification, the faster the great Father of Lights lets more light be poured down into this dim world of his. Copernicus did not annul the first paragraph of the Creed by what he proved, Newton laid no violent hand upon the second, Lavoisier caused no hiatus in the third; but the words "Maker of heaven and earth," the words "He ascended into heaven," and the words "the Resurrection of the body," have meant more to intelligent believers since these three men made their discoveries than they meant before. That is what the liberal-conservative has to say about it,--the man who believes in the past, but not so stupidly as to keep his eyes fast shut to anything that God may be revealing in the present. It is easy to see that in the field of governance the conservative will naturally favor whatever makes for continuity of control, for regularity in the transmission of authority, and in general for what we know as legitimacy; that the liberal, on the other hand, will smile approvingly on new methods of administration, and, so that men make full proof of their ministry by showing themselves successful in the conversion of souls to God, will deprecate too close a scrutiny of ecclesiastical pedigrees; that the conservative-liberal will say: "Oh yes, I like this spiritual freedom; but wouldn't it be prudent to draw the line somewhere? "and that the liberal-conservative will respond: "Yes, certainly, the line must be drawn; but let us make it just as inclusive as ever we conscientiously can. The one sin which God Almighty will never forgive to any portion of his Church is the sin of want of sympathy." And then, again, there is worship. We can have little doubt as to how the men of the different temperaments will stand affected towards that. With the conservative it will be the rubric, the whole rubric, and nothing but the rubric; with the liberal it will be what he laxly calls "the rubric of common-sense." The conservative-liberal will declare that he loves a simple, unaffected, and, as it were, spontaneous rendering of divine service, while yet he does not see why it should not be enriched a little and made dignified by the old traditional methods; while the liberal-conservative will argue that, supposing those who are attached to the old ways in all their oldness are not only allowed to have them, but are given guarantees that they shall never be molested in their enjoyment of them, he cannot, for the life of him, understand why Anglicans should refuse Church fellowship to congregations of Christian folk who are ready for their polity, but not quite ready for all the details of their liturgy.
It might at first sight appear, from what has been said, as if Churchmen might all be classified--if classified they must be--under four heads; but no, the thing is far from being so simple as all this, seeing that various cross-combinations are possible, conservatism itself seeming to one conservative to demand that he differ from his brother conservative in matters of worship while agreeing with him in questions of polity, and that he agree with another ou points of polity while differing with him widely in his view of dogma.
Instead, therefore, of only four varieties of Church-manship, there may conceivably be it is difficult to say how many. And what is the just inference from such a conclusion? Is it not this,--that since all these manifold types of character do, as a matter of fact, already co-exist amicably enough within the limits of a single historic Church, there is no reason, in the nature of things, why that Church should not become far more truly an American Church than it can truthfully boast of being now?
Already Anglican religion is in theory hospitable and inclusive; it remains for us of this new world, acting under the guidance and blessing of Him who, doubtless for cause, led our fathers hither, to see whether we cannot translate theory into fact.