Зображення сторінки

the great facts of Christianity strengthened by them. But others were specially adapted to the prepossessions of those who witnessed them, and are not therefore easily apprehended by men inheriting widely different habits of thought. Dr. Newman has called attention to the fact that in many cases “ miracles which produced a rational conviction at the time when they took place have ever since proved rather an objection to revelation than an evidence for it, and have depended on the rest for support; while others, which once were of a dubious and perplexing character, have in succeeding ages come forward in its defence.” 1

Protestantism has indirectly recognized the provisional office of miracles by not encouraging the expectation of their continuance ; and the analogies of history as well as those of physical nature sustain a judgment that has been largely instinctive. The higher we rise in the scale of creation the more does the progressive method declare itself both in the history of ideas and of individuals; and the more extended the development in any given case the more numerous and varied are the elements that have been successively utilized and outgrown. The human infant, capable of an elaborateness of evolution in comparison with which the lives of other animals seem to be almost stationary, begins its existence in a state of absolute dependence. It must be carried, protected, nourished. It must be led step by step till it is able to take care of itself; and along the whole course of its growth appliances and methods that have been useful are left behind. What was beneficial at an early stage becomes not only unnecessary but positively opposed to growth at a later one. The same has been true of ideas. Those that have had the most elaborate history, and that still promise a future of development, are in many cases those which have had the feeblest beginnings. How many great truths have had to be first protected by secrecy, then fought for, then hedged about by law, then fostered and developed by public sentiment, till at last they have attained to an independent and secure position! Does not the religious faith of many an earnest seeker after truth go through analogous stages ? And in all these cases supports that were important and necessary to one period of development become cast-off swaddling clothes to the next.

Christianity, in its successive metamorphoses, has most conspicuously illustrated this principle. At its entrance into the world it claimed to be not a new religion, but a higher form of one that had known a great history. Externally considered, one of the

1 Essays on Miracles, p. 9.

most marked of the phenomena attending its advent was the abandonment of a time-honored rigid shell that had protected, but now cramped and smothered it. Old traditions, old ceremonies, old requirements, old and consecrated places of worship, were left behind. The things to be destroyed were, to the apprehension of the generation nursed in them, very great, very sacred, most essential and indispensable; while those which remained were truly typified by the soft, helpless, undeveloped babe lying in the manger at Bethlehem. Without a priesthood, without a ritual, destitute of prestige, it came to supplant an organized form of religion that had all these advantages. It came to make a direct appeal to the human reason, to establish itself in the hearts and consciences of men, to abolish the necessity of human mediation, and to bring the individual into direct and living communion with God. It essayed to do this by the presentation of certain great facts and ideas, the acceptance of which would be the first step in its career of conquest.

But how were these great facts to gain acceptance? Necessarily not through the ordinary channels of human authority and influence ; for one great end to be attained was to bring man face to face with his God, to make him an intelligent agent in that transformation by which he passed out of the relation of subject into that of sonship, out of that of servant into that of friend. The Father must reveal himself as speaking directly to the individual. But the great facts and ideas to be communicated are advanced truths. They do not appeal to the present consciousness of the mass of men; and by their very nature they do not admit of that kind of demonstration which the truths of science offer. The time will come when, accepted and proved in the experience of the race, they will speak for themselves. But now it is necessary that signs of their divine origin should fill the place ordinarily occupied by the prestige of a great name. Until these spiritual facts can be spiritually attested, it is expedient that they should be attested by facts that are their analogues in the realm of sensible phenomena.

Through a man of humble origin God announces the great fact of the forgiveness of sins. When one sick of the palsy is laid before him He utters the authoritative and startling proclamation, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” But to the bystanders this seems only blasphemy, until He manifests himself by adding, “ That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed and go thy way into thine house.” Then, we are told, they “ glorified God.” He had spoken to them in a language which they understood, by signs that in the current thought of the time were the true and infallible exponents of the power which He assumed. So, also, it was necessary that the great fact of life beyond the grave should be signalized to the apprehension of the senses by the resurrection, and that the reality of the mysterious indwelling of God in the human soul, and of his coöperative working with the individual, should be indorsed by the external phenomena of the day of Pentecost.

But the great end for which these truths were introduced into the scheme of things could not be accomplished by any such means. Had they been lodged far more securely and more widely in the minds of that generation it would not have been accomplished. For these truths were new factors in the development of man, — in the development of his reason, of his spiritual life, of his whole being. They are the starting points of a new era. They are to be progressively apprehended. They are to be understood as well as assented to, — realized, not simply recognized. They are in this higher stage of evolution the analogues of those fundamental truths, the ultimate data of thought, that underlie man's original revelation to himself. And as these original postulates were and are surrounded by the elements of an external revelation, the materials for the development and realization of that originally given, so the great facts in the realm of the spirit have a growth-promoting environment of their own; first, in the manifold writings of the Bible, and second, in every kind of knowledge and experience that comes to, or that is achieved by, the mind of

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


THERE is no need to give an abstract of the contents of these fascinating volumes, for everybody is reading them. Most are probably wishing for more personal details, especially of the American life; but the editorial work is so deftly and delicately done, and “the story of an intellectual life marked by rare coherence and unity” is so well arranged to tell itself and make its impression, that we may thankfully accept what has been given us, though the desired “fullness of personal narrative” be wanting.

Twelve years have passed since Agassiz was taken from us. Yet to some of us it seems not very long ago that the already celebrated Swiss naturalist came over in the bloom of his manly beauty to charm us with his winning ways, and inspire us with his overflowing enthusiasm, as he entered upon the American half of that career which has been so beneficial to the interests of natural science. There are not many left of those who attended those first Lowell Lectures in the autumn of 1846,- perhaps all the more taking for the broken English in which they were delivered, — and who shared in the delight with which, in a supplementary lecture, he more fluently addressed his audience in his mother tongue.

In these earliest lectures he sounded the note of which his last public utterance was the dying cadence. For, as this biography rightly intimates, his scientific life was singularly entire and homogeneous, — if not uninfluenced yet quite unchanged by the transitions which have marked the period. In a small circle of naturalists, almost the first that was assembled to greet him on his coming to this country, and of which the writer is the sole survivor, when Agassiz was inquired of as to his conception of “ species,” he sententiously replied : “A species is a thought of the Creator.” To this thoroughly theistic conception he joined the scientific deduction which he had already been led to draw, that the animal species of each geological age, or even stratum, were different from those preceding and following, and also unconnected by natural derivation. And his very last published words reiterated his steadfast conviction that “there is no evidence of a direct descent of later from earlier species in the geological succession of animals.” Indeed, so far as we know, he would not even admit that such “ thoughts of the Creator" as these might have been actualized in the natural course of events. If he had accepted such a view, and if he had himself apprehended and developed in his own way the now well-nigh assured significance of some of his early and pregnant generalizations, the history of the doctrine of development would have been different from what it is, a different spirit and another name would have been prominent in it, and Agassiz would not have passed away while fighting what he felt to be — at least for the present — a losing battle. It is possible that the “whirligig of time ” may still “ bring in his revenges,” but not very probable.

1 Louis Agassiz, His Life and Correspondence. Edited by Elizabeth Cary Agassiz. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1885.

Much to his credit, it may be said that a good share of Agassiz's invincible aversion to evolution may be traced to the spirit in which it was taken up by his early associate Vogt, and, indeed, by most of the German school then and since, which justly offended both his scientific and his religious sense. Agassiz always " thought nobly of the soul,” and could in no way approve either materialistic or agnostic opinions. The idealistic turn of his mind was doubtless confirmed in his student days at Munich, whither he and his friend Braun resorted after one session at Heidelberg, and where both devotedly attended the lectures of Schelling, - then in his later glory,– and of Oken, whose Natur-Philosophie was then in the ascendant. Although fascinated and inspired by Oken's à priori biology (built upon morphological ideas which had not yet been established but had, in part, been rightly divined), the two young naturalists were not carried away by it, — probably because they were such keen and conscientious observers, and were kept in close communion with work-a-day Nature. As Agassiz intimates, they had to resist “the temptation to impose one's own ideas upon Nature, to explain her mysteries by brilliant theories rather than by patient study of the facts as we find them,” and that "overbearing confidence in the abstract conceptions of the human mind as applied to the study of nature;” although, indeed, he adds, “the young naturalist of that day who did not share, in some degree, the intellectual stimulus given to scientific pursuits by physio-philosophy would have missed a part of his training." That training was not lost upon Agassiz. Although the adage in his last published article, “a physical fact is as sacred as a moral principle," was well lived up to, yet ideal prepossessions often had much to do with his marshaling of the facts.

Another professor at Munich, from whom Agassiz learned much, and had nothing to unlearn, was the anatomist and physi

« НазадПродовжити »