THE NEW PREFACE TO ECCE HOMO.
THE author of Ecce Homo has written a preface to the fifth edition of that successful book, defining more precisely and defending more at length his intellectual assumptions and pro- cedure. He has assumed, he says, nothing but such general characteristics of Christ's action as belong to it in all four Gospels alike, and relied only on those historical facts which are absolutelyin harmony with and illustrative of those characteristics. "Resting, then," he proceeds, "upon a basis of absolutely uniform testimony, upon facts merely illustrated and explained by less certain tradi- tion, the writer has endeavoured to describe a moralist speaking with authority and perpetuating his doctrine by means of a society. It is this union of morals and politics that he finds to be characteristic of Christianity." And he proceeds to argue that those of his readers have utterly missed his meaning who do not perceive that Christian morality would be nothing without the society which Christ formed for the purpose of spreading that morality, and the authority which kept that society together and threatened judg- ment and punishment to those who broke its laws. Thus he com- pares the Stoic with the Christian sanctions :'—" The Stoic rules were without sanctions. If they were violated, what could be said to the offender ? All that could be said was Nempe hoc indocti,' or Chrysippus non dicet idem.' To which how easy to reply, 'I esteem Chrysippus, but on this point I differ from him.' Io Christian lapsi it was said, You haverenounced your baptism ; you have denied your master ; you are cut off from the Church ; the Judge will condemn you.' Is this a verbal distinction ?" And he argues with his usual ability that it is no verbal distinction,—that the very essence of Christ's service to the world consisted in forming a great society on an authoritative basis ; that "without a society and an authority of some kind morality remains speculative and useless ;" and that as an army by virtue of its very organization and disci- pline creates to a certain extent the virtues it needs of courage and prompt obedieuce,—as the civil State creates by its very existence and discipline the virtues which it, too, needs of order and respect for property, so the Church creates by its social organiza- tion and authoritative discipline "all virtues alike, but especially those which are nursed by no other organization—philanthropy, mercy, forgiveness," &c. He illustrates what Christian ethics without a Christian society and authority would be thus:—" Every man is conscious that of the morality which he theoretically holds there is one part which he always and easily practises, and another part which he often neglects. He knows as well, theoretically, that the pleasure he finds in telling scandalous stories is vicious, as he knows that the taste for theft is vicious. Yet he falls some- times into the one vice, and he is in no danger of falling into the other. The inducements to theft may be greater than the induce- ments to scandal, and yet he finds them easier to resist. Again, scandal is generally more inexcusable and may easily be more mischievous than theft, and yet when he has been guilty of scandal he feels only that he has done wrong—' nempe hoc baked f —when he has committed theft he feels that he is disgraced for ever. The simple reason of this is that theft is the vice which political society exists to put down, and that laws are directed against it." And he defines the Church as the great "virtue-making institution," and asserts that "the root of all evil in the Church is the imagi- nation that it exists for any other purpose than to foster virtue, or can be prosperous except so far as it does this."
Now it seems to us that in this exposition the author repeats, and even emphasizes, the radical defect of his whole book, which is the attempt to separate a purely spiritual legislation from the spiritual root of that legislation, and to supply the place of that spiritual spring and source, by enforcing with almost old-fashioned stress the overworked threat of penal social consequences to fol- low disobedience, and of judgments of the nature of actes d'accusa-
tion after death. We do not mean of course to throw the least doubt on the faith, which we profoundly accept, that sooner or later, there if not here, we shall be made to feel the baseness and bitterness of every evil action the evil of which we have not already laid thoroughly to heart and utterly put from us,—but only to draw attention to the undue value which our author is obliged to assign to the indeterminate spiritual and more deter- minate and immediate social consequences of any transgression of Christ's laws, by his refusal or reluctance to insist on the true spring of their authority in our Lord's teaching of the vital and organic relation of all human consciences with Himself. We do not believe that the authoritative foun- dation of a society, with laws of its own entailing penal consequences on those who should break them, would or could have had the effect which our author ascribes to it, apart from that universal spiritual bond the existence and significance of which he suppresses, and is obliged by his imperfect scheme to suppress. Penal consequences and future judgments are almost wholly inoperative, except as mere modes of registering and ex- pressing a moral judgment heartily entertained in the society over whom they impend. The most moral value that can be assigned to penal legislation is that, if in accordance with the popular conscience, it may prevent a falling back of popular morality in con- nection with any particular point ; it may crystallize and perma- nently fix a moral opinion otherwise not unlikely to be fluctuating and temporary. Catch a nation at the exact point where a
general moral sentiment unfavourable to a particular vice is widely diffused, and by legislating against it, if it is a matter admitting of an external criterion, it is possible that you may prevent any retrogression of moral sentiment thereon. But that is all. Legislate against wine-drinking in a society which sees no harm in wine-drinking, and you do not sow a conviction that it is wrong, but only a disposition to regard the law as meddling and offensive. In the cases cited by our author, it is scarcely punishment by the State which makes theft social dishonour, but the widespread concurrence in the feeling that theft is dis- honourable, which enables the State to punish it so severely. The laws against treason have been as long in force, and till lately executed with greater severity than the laws against theft. But that has not made treason in the same sense dishonourable, because under every bad government there has always been a general pro- test of conscience against the authority of that government, .while no government has been quite free from stain. The social conscience gives efficiency to law, while law at best only arrests the decay of social conscience. A lie between gentlemen is held far more dishonour- able than physical violence. Yet the law punishes the latter, and takes no notice of the former. No doubt the full chorus of society on a moral point does indefinitely strengthen, by re-echoing, indi- vidual ethical convictions ; but what we want to make clear is that it is not the mere authoritative legislation, or threats of penal judgment, which can enforce morality, though a single conscience placed at the focu.e of many converging consciences is usually no doubt greatly strengthened if it concurs with them,greatly weakened and paralyzed if it is in revolt. The case of the army is one in which an association of men all possessed with the notions of the grandeur of courage and discipline begins to practise these sometimes irk- some duties. Of course the legislation exactly expresses the average military ideal, though the penalties are stricter than in civil legislation, for obvious reasons. And of course the united practice of any virtue whatever by a large number of men deepens the insight into it and value for it,—but then that is not a result due to authoritative legislation and penal consequences ; it is due to the public knowledge of it gained by a society which practises it.
And so of the Church. The legislation of Christ was, we be- lieve, as authoritative as our author represents it, but the spring of that authority was not in the assumed power to punish diso- bedience. If the Church was "a virtue-making institution," it was not through its rewards and punishments. Those rewards and punishments—excommunication and spiritual menaces for the next world—were only powerful at all for good so far as they reflected the consenting conscience of the Church, and did not go beyond it. For evil they were powerful enough in direct propor- tion as they surpassed the moral insight which the Church had gained or given. What, then, was the true spiritual spring of the legislative authority of Christ ? Precisely that which our author is obliged to ignore,—the faith on which the Church was built that out Lord himself is ever at work within human nature, pour- ing into its most secret recesses all the viatue which possessed Ills own earthly life eighteen centuries ago. Without this faith we do not believe that the Church would ever have been anything but a failure. It is not legislative authority which creates moral con- viction, but moral conviction which gives legislative authority its force. Without the belief in a divine Son of God perpetually inspiring and renewing their hearts with His own spiritual life, it is clear enough that the Apostles would never have lived the life they did. It is not the legislation and the expectation of judgment, it is the Life within them on which they perpetually insist. " Not I, but Christ which worketh in me." It is the revelation of Christ "within" St. Paul from which he dates his whole change of life, — the reception of "the engrafted word," which even St. James, the most external of all the writers of the New Testament, speaks of as the crisis of spiritual life. The teaching as to many members in one body, as to men existing in Christ as the branches inhere in the vine, of "hearts hidden with Christ in God," of looking forward to "Christ which is our life "appearing,—these are the roots of the spiritual authority of Christ's legislation. It is the new interpre- tation given to the highest thoughts and movements of the mind, as the touches of the same perfect personality which in its life on earth laid down the highest laws of spiritual motive and feeling, it is this that really gave the power to obey a legislation otherwise hopelessly above man. It was the translation of our compassion into the faint stirring of His infinite pity within us, of our relent- ings against foes into the dawn upon our minds of His full and free forgiveness, of our dim spiritual self-knowledge into the beam of His perfectly calm and lucid light, of oar half aspirations after self-sacrifice into the willing serenity of His rich and ample love, of our flickering and feeble devotion into the language of His eons- plete and joyful surrender to His father's will, which changed all those half-formed, inchoate, weakly growths of spiritual life in man, into motives and impulses as strong as just laws laid down by a living lawgiver, who is not only most dear to the inmost heart of the people he rules, but ever present with them in the struggle to obey. It seems to us quite idle to suppose that the Christian society could ever have had the vitality it has had, were Christ only "a moralist speaking with authority, and perpetuating His doctrine by means of a society." The life of the Church has always been the living impersonation given to its highest mental states by the identification of our best inward light as children of God with the everlasting word who "became flesh and dwelt among us." The poverty and incoherence of the language even of the purest conscience and highest emotion have always been a source of weak- ness. Christ gave an interpretation to every such broken and stam- mering word, which at once summoned before the mind of the be- liever a great and stately life far above its own highest conceptions, and explained such dim thoughts as being His personal effort tobreak through the clouds within and bring a new power into the heart. Without that belief, we take it, legislative authority and codes of laws would have been alike vain. With it the Church has been a power such as has never before existed in the world, but then it does not owe that power to any "enthusiasm of humanity," but rather owes whatever there has been of "enthusiasm of humanity" to the enthusiasm of divinity caused by this drawing away of the veil from the Light of human conscience and the Spring of human love.