Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

M. Renan presents very striking views on religious freedom from another stand-point. Speaking of the religious future of the world, which he thus describes, A free Christianity, with 'innumerable interior varieties, such as was the Christianity of 'the three first centuries, such appears to us to be the religious 'future of Europe,' he proceeds to announce these elevated truths

'I know that many people will think such a view utopian, and they might well do so if I spoke of measures to be now taken, or of present reforms in legislation; but it is not in this way that great transformations of humanity are made. The legislation of religious worship will only remain what the people wish it to be. The only question of interest to the philosopher is to know on what side the world moves, or, in other words, to see clearly the consequences that are implied in accomplished facts. But if there be one principle which is irrevocably established in the world, it is this, that the domain of the soul is that of liberty and of individuality. The two great forces of modern Europe-French democracy and the English mind-are at one on this point. A free Christianity alone can be eternal and universal. The idea of a spiritual power opposed to the temporal power must be modified. Assuredly the spiritual is not the temporal; but the spiritual does not constitute a power, il constitue une liberté. If there had been in this world a spiritual power, Gregory VII. would have been justified in his boldest paradoxes; the sovereignty over the souls of men would have been supreme; the sovereignty over their bodies would have been nothing. But, in reality, the sovereignty over the souls of men only exists in the spiritual world, i.e., in the region of mind. Liberty is necessarily limited in the material world. My neighbour's field is forbidden to me: that is just and necessary, in order that my field may be forbidden to my neighbour. But my neighbour does me no wrong by having opinions upon God, the world, and society, which appear right to him; for by having these opinions he does not take away from me the right of having opinions wholly opposed to his. The Church, if by that word we understand a power armed by other means than those of free propagandism, must accordingly disappear; not for the advantage of the State, but for the sake of liberty. So long as there may be an official establishment of religion, it is much better that the two authorities be distinct and separated than united in one. But the ideal towards which we must strive is to attain the free sovereignty of mind and conscience; not as fanatics and sectaries mean it, but as all true liberals mean it, persuaded that a belief has value only when it is acquired by a personal reflection and a religious act-has merit only when it is spontaneous and voluntary.'

The principle of human liberty, par excellence, is this, that man is a spirit, that he can only be possessed and governed through his

Renan and De Pressensé on Christian Liberty.

369

spirit, and that whatever does not change his spirit has not the slightest value.'*

It is however in the writings of Dr. De Pressensé that the doctrine of religious liberty has found its most complete announcement and vindication. The paper he read before the Geneva Conference of the Evangelical Alliance gives in brief the views held by him, and as this paper is translated, and is easily accessible in the 'Proceedings of the Geneva Conference,' published for the Evangelical Alliance by A. Strahan & Co., 1862, we shall only give one extract from it.

That which is often understood by freedom of worship, is the exclusive freedom of a certain religious form, which a person identifies with the truth. You start with the indisputable principle of the sovereignty of truth, to conclude that error has no right`in the world any more than evil, and that consequently it ought to be outlawed in civil and religious society. The whole of this widelydiffused theory rests on a miserable sophism. We agree that truth is paramount; but it is our concern to know whether truth is a moral power or a material power. In the latter case compulsion is an element in the part she has to play, and we conceive readily that it should arrogate a certain authority to itself. In the former case she has only one mode of action, namely, persuasion, and all that is abstracted from the freedom of man's mind is abstracted from her influence. . . . . . These considerations acquire a new value when they come to be applied to Christianity. The latter may be defined in one word: it is the religion of love. Its principal dogma is our redemption; that is, a reconciliation of heaven with earth solemnized in the sacrifice on Mount Calvary, and having to be renewed between God and each individual by the blood of the Cross. But to what could a reconciliation amount to that was not free, that was effected by compulsion? . . . . It is on this ground that the religion of love is above all things the religion of freedom; the religion that begins with an absolute reverence for the moral personality in the act that pledges it to God, and that seeks incessantly not to swaddle and paralyze it, but to fertilize and develop it. God, to save us, has need of our liberty. Therefore has our Saviour pronounced the most express malediction on compulsion and violence in religion...

.....

... The King of our souls is a poor and crucified one. How is it that we have not understood, in seeing him ascend his bloody throne, what was the nature of that royalty of which he said that it was not of this world?.... See how religion was manifested in him, weak after the flesh, like a "root out of a dry ground," but having all the more power over the spirit from being unarmed. In this guise must she always walk the earth, appealing to the will of free agents, and winning her way only by sufferance, by love, and by the charm of moral beauty. In this guise she appeared in the apostolic age, * Revue des Deux Mondes, vol. xxix. pp. 791, 795.

when the great apostle of the primitive Church said, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal." In this guise she advanced over the Roman empire, sowing her faith with the blood of her adherents during three centuries of martyrdom and of heroism, while her watchword was that sublime expression of Tertullian's, "Non est religionis cogere religionem."'

The bearing of all this on the great question of Church and State we need not point out.*

ART. VI.-English Metrical Homilies from MSS. of the Fourteenth Century. With an Introduction and Notes, by JOHN SMALL, M.A., Librarian, University, Edinburgh. Small 4to. Edinburgh: 1862.

THIS curious, and in many respects interesting, production, is printed from a MS. belonging to the Royal College of Physicians at Edinburgh, collated with MSS. of the same collection preserved in the libraries at Oxford and Cambridge. Other copies of the same exist in the British Museum (Cottonian MS., Tiberius, E. vii.), and in the Lambeth library (MSS., No. 260). There is reason to believe that at one time many copies were in existence, and that previous to the Reformation the Homilies it contains were extensively read in the churches to the people, and especially of the more northern counties. We have thus before us what may be regarded as a genuine specimen of mediæval popular preaching in this country. Mr. Small has discharged his duty of editor with great care and ability. The MS. which he had under his hands is described by him as 'a thin 'quarto on vellum, of fifty leaves, chiefly written in double columns, 'each of about forty-five lines. It contains fragments of three dif

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

M. Henri Martin, the celebrated historian, has also been writing on this topic, and here is his conclusion:-'Neither civil constitution of the clergy, nor Concordat. Liberty! The future points to that. Liberty of worship, and worship apart from (en dehors de) the State. The formula (these were Count di 'Cavour's DYING words-the last he uttered- Frute, frute, libera chiesa in libero Stato), "A free Church in a free State," is not the true one; it should be'Religion free in a free State. "A free Church in a free State" is the Church "recognised as an official body in presence of the body politic (en face du corps du corps politique). The State should not treat with the Church as a body. The 'State should not know the Church, or rather the Churches, except as free asso'ciations of citizens, to whom it owes the protection of their liberty, and who owe to it respect for the law. Disengage the State and lighten its burden, this is the best way to make it strong. Make worship a mere parish matter, until it shall become a matter simply affecting the conscience of the individual (affeire 'de simple conscience individuelle.)'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Interest of the Work.

371

⚫ferent books, the handwriting of each being different, but attribu'table to the later part of the thirteenth, or the early part of the 'fourteenth century.' Besides the Homilies now printed, it contains various poems, partly of a religious and partly of a secular character. These Homilies form only part of a larger collection, as is seen by comparing this with the other MSS. above noted; and of those contained in it most are defective in various places. These lacunæ, however, Mr. Small has supplied from the Cambridge and Oxford MSS.; so that in the volume he has edited we have that portion of the series complete which extends from the first Sunday in Advent to the end of the service for the Purification of the Blessed Virgin; in all, thirteen Homilies, including the Prologus. Mr. Small has also appended a series of notes, chiefly glossarial, and has prefixed to the whole a sensible and carefully written introduction. We must add that the book is admirably got up, the pages clean and neat, and the printing in that style which, in the hands of Clark and Neill, promises to render the Edinburgh press as famous in our day as was the Glasgow press in that of the Foulises.

A varied interest, we have said, attaches to this publication. It is interesting to the English philologist as presenting a specimen of the popular speech five or six centuries ago; it is interesting to the historian of literature, as belonging to the earliest efforts of the re-awakened literary taste of our nation in the period immediately preceding that of Chaucer; it is interesting to the student of Church history, as illustrating the religious life and habits of the period; and it has general interest, as bringing before us in a somewhat graphic and very natural manner, a state of society so long since passed away, that in some respects it is difficult for us to realize it as having been actually native to this England of ours. As only a limited number of copies of the work have been printed, we shall hope to gratify our readers by putting them in possession, as far as our limits will permit, of the instruction and amusement it is fitted to yield.

On the philological merits of the work we shall not greatly enlarge; though we cannot but regard its bearing on the history of our language as one of its most valuable qualities. In the thirteenth century the English language was formed. Towards the middle of the preceding century the pure Saxon gave place to a modified dialect, known to philologists as the semiSaxon; and this gradually passed, by various internal changes, such as all languages are subject to, and by infusions from foreign sources, chiefly the Latin and Norman-French, into the Old

* We wish for convenience' sake he had given us an alphabetical glossary.

English. In this, its infantile state, our language was during the reigns of Edward I. and Edward II.; and to this period the compositions before us belong. Besides adding to the comparatively scanty remains of our national literature at that time, they possess, in a philological respect, additional value, as presenting the language in its popular form, as used by those who sought to be understood and appreciated by the common people. The language of the higher and more educated classes at this period was much less pure, in consequence of their using largely French and Latin, or the language both of literature and polite discourse. One of the statutes of Oriel College, Oxford, prescribes that members of the university, if they have anything to say to each other, shall make use of the Latin, or at any'rate of the French tongue." 米 'Letters,' says Mr. Hallam,†

even of a private nature, were written in Latin till the beginning of the reign of Edward I., soon after 1270, when a sudden 'change brought in the use of French. Higden complains that 'Boys in schools, contrary to the custom of other nations, having 'given up their proper vernacular, are compelled, since the advent ' of the Normans, to construe in French. Thus,' he adds, 'the 'sons of the nobility from their very cradles are moulded into 'the Gallic idiom.' He also complains that the rustics were tempted to imitate the speech of their superiors, and so laboured with all their might to become Frenchified (Francigenari). This, however, can only have been to a very limited extent, and only in their intercourse with their superiors, or when they came into the great world which lay around their rustic seclusion. Among themselves, around their rustic hearths, in their village gatherings, and out in the fields at their labours, they clung to their mother-tongue, and adopted only very sparingly foreign expressions and forms. But of this language, as might be expected, literature has preserved to us few specimens. Hence, all the more valuable becomes such a relique as that which Mr. Small has given to the press; which shows us not only in what language the people spoke to each other, but how there were men in that day who, disregarding the fame of scholarship and the sneers of those who affected the language of Court and the university, sought to convey religious truth to the people in the homely tongue 'wherein they were born.'

When we compare the language of these Homilies with that of Chaucer, we at once see how much nearer the ancient Saxon root the former grew than the latter. On the other hand,

* Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. i. p. 6. London: 1824. + Literature of Europe, vol. i. p. 52.

See Trevisa's translation of this passage in Warton, vol. i. pp. 5, 6.

« PreviousContinue »