MATTHEW ARNOLD'S NEW CHRISTIAN CATECHISM.
MR. ARNOLD'S comment on Christmas in the April Contemporary is a very patronising one. He is very thankful for what he terms the Christmas legend. He thinks the belief in the miraculous birth a striking testimony to the universal feeling for the purity of Christ, and he rejoices that it embodies that feeling in a poetical form better calculated to impress the world than any pedantic inculcation of purity by those who have learnt the worthlessness of the legend, could pretend to be. Consequently, Mr. Arnold does not attempt to re-state the Christian teaching with regard to purity with any affectation of being able to enforce it the better for not associating it with supernatural sanctions. He even admits that the givingup of all these supernatural sanctions,—which he chooses, not very candidly as we think, to speak of collectively as " miracles," —is a matter of danger. "Undoubtedly the reliance on miracles is not lost without some danger; but the thing to consider is that it must be lost, and that the danger must be met, and, as it can be, counteracted. If men say, as some men are likely enough to say, that they altogether give-up Christian miracles, and cannot do otherwise, but that then they give-up Christian morals too, the answer is, that they do this at their own risk and peril ; that they need not do it., that they are wrong in doing it, and will have to rue their error. But for my part, I prefer at present to say this simply and barely, and not to give any rhetorical development to it." ' And here surely Mr. Arnold is very wise, for as we want to know what will be left of Christianity, after all that is not mere human quality. has departed, " a rhetorical development" would rather confuse than help to enlighten us. And we suppose that we get as near as possible to the heart of what Mr. Arnold discerns in Christianity, when all that is legendary and " unverifiable " has been ignored in it, in the following terse catechism,—certainly much nearer than we could get by the help of any kind of " rhetorical development" :— " Therefore, when we are asked : What really is Christmas, and what does it celebrate ? we answer, the birthday of Jesus. What is the miracle of the Incarnation ? A homage to the virtue of pureness, and to the manifestation of this virtue in Jesus. What is Lent, and the miracle of the temptation ? A homage to the virtue of self-control and to the manifestation of this virtue in Jesus. What does Easter celebrate ? Jesus victorious over death by dying. By dying how ? Dying to re-live. To re-live in Paradise, in another world ? No, in this. What, then, is the kingdom of God ? The ideal society of the future. Then, what is immortality ? To live in the Eternal Order, which never dies. What is salvation by Jesus Christ? The attainment of this immortality. Through what means P Through means of the method and the secret and the temper of Jesus."
Now, to get to the bottom of the drift of the answers here suggested to Mr. Arnold's catechumens, we should like• to put to the distinguished author of the Catechism a few more questions intended to bring out its meaning. In what did the blessing of pureness, as enforced by Jesus, consist ? Mr. Arnold himself tells us, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." What do you mean by God? Mr. Arnold has told us that, so far as the word " God " conveys a verifiable reality at all, it means, " A stream of tendency, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness." Did, then, Jesus hold that the blessedness of purity consisted in discerning "a stream of tendency, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness" ? May not the impure see that just as well, and see that it makes for their misery ? Again, what was the secret of resisting temptation "as manifested in Jesus " ? We are told by those who learned the story of the temptation from Christ that it consisted in realising fully that " Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Now, if you substitute here for "God," "a stream of tendency, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness," would you attach any meaning at all to the words of our Lord ? Would it mean anything to say, " Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the stream of tendency that makes for righteousness " ? Again, when Mr. Arnold says that Easter celebrates Jesus victorious over death by dying, and by dyitig to re-live, what is the account which Jesus himself gives of this re-living ; is it Mr, Arnold's—that be is to re-live " in the Eternal Order which never dies " P No ; it is that be is to relive in his Father, even as his. disciples are to re-live in him. "Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more ; but ye see me : because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall
know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." Does not Mr. Arnold see that to substitute for " my Father" "a stream of tendency, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness," makes the purest nonsense of these promises, and yet that in these promises centres the celebration of Easter, and the essence of that "victory over death," which the death of Jesus was to bring P What Mr. Arnold truly calls "the secret of Jesus," the secret of dying in order to re-live, is a secret the whole significance of which is contained in the life in God. This life in God was assigned, not only as the special blessing of purity, and as
the special source of strength in temptation, but as the-infinite spring of joy which eye has not seen nor ear heard, and which it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Mr. Arnold's catechism has but this one defect,—it leaves out God. And if God be only a stream of tendency, Jesus Christ, instead of being one whose birth we ought to celebrate with imperishable joy, would be one who had misled mankind into believing in the wildest and most blinding of human illusions.
Mr. Arnold will now understand why we reproached him with lumping together all that is supernatural in Judaism and Christianity under the general head of " miracles." For our own part, we are no less sure that miracles occur, than Mr. Arnold is sure that they do not occur. But it is not on the occurrence or non-occurrence of miracles that the essential truth of Christianity hinges ; it is on the reality or unreality of our Lord's personal life in God. And when we speak of God, we need hardly say that we do not use that great word in Mr. Arnold's sense of an "eternal order,"—which without God may be eternal or not, and may be order or not, for without him it might be either temporary order, or temporary disorder, or eternal order, or eternal disorder, and no human being could tell us which. We mean by God, what Jesus Christ meant, not "a stream of tendency, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness," for without God such a stream of tendency, if it existed, might be very much weaker than the stream of tendency, not ourselves, which makes for unrighteousness,. but God in the only sense in which Christ ever uses the term, pamely, a being who both gives and asks the purest love of which the heart can form • any conception, and who is wholly " unverifiable" by us unless he verifies himself in us. Without such a being, Christ's beatitudes have no ground and no meaning; without such a being, Lent and Easter are but the mirage of the desert ; without such a being, there is no re-living for dying saviours, except in that very idle and empty -form,—the posthumous life ; and even of that re-living a very large part would be mischievous, since it would consist in leading others to wander about after the same will-of-the-wisps which the exaltation of these dying saviours' hearts had led them to follow.
What we press is this :—Mr. Arnold's criticism of the Bible goes a great deal further than the exorcism of the miraculous from its pages,—it gOes to the exorcism of the supernatural, the exorcism of God. Now, if the Bible is not a revelation of the character of God, it is nothing in the world but a book the whole source of whose inspiration is illusion. And if it be, as we hold, the true revelation of the character of God, then the supernatural is real ; and the questions as to the truth or falsehood of individual miracles is as nothing compared with the great faot that a source of spiritual power exists beyond what we call Nature, and independent of what we call natural laws, and that that power has revealed itself to us. Mr. Arnold's fond desire to keep the Bible without God, seems to us even wilder than the Nihilists' desire to protect liberty by destroying Governments,—for it is at least just conceivable that all men should consent to respect each other's liberty when government had disappeared ; but. if God be not a being to obey and love, the Bible becomes a bewildering chaos of false dreams and fancies and of distracting promises, on which no real and sober life can ix; built-up. Grant the supernatural, however, and Mr. Arnold well knows that he grants so much, that whether we accept all the rest or not is comparatively a detail. It is the supernatural with which he must dispense, if he wants to get back to scientific naturalism of any sort or kind. It is • the belief that the soul can commune with God, can make itself heard by him, can hear his word and obey it, can feel his love and return it, which is so out of keeping with the physical science of the day, and so subversive of scientific maxims and exhortations. If Mr. Arnold, in deference to the modern science, gets rid of that, he gets rid of the very stock of
which miracle is the fruit. If he retains it, he retains that stock, and must not be surprised to hear men saying that what are asually called miracles,—results which really are due to the power of spirit over physical nature,—have happened in all ages, happen now, and will happen hereafter, though not of course with the frequency and the power with which they have happened in the wake of a few diiinely-gifted natures. The truth is that Mr. Arnold wants to retain the right to strikeout both right and left,—to pity the credulity which revolts the science of the day, and to depreciate the science which revolts the credulity. He is very adroit in dealing blows at both ; but none the less he does not prevail over either, for the simple reason that he cannot make his own choice. between them. It is childish to give-in his adhesion to the spiritual world, and yet to empty that world of all which men have worshipped in it. It is childish to give-in his adhesion to the scientific world, and yet invest it with an atmosphere that physical science utterly repudiates. Christ revealed God; and without God, his teaching would be baseless. Physical science reveals only law; and if there be anything beyond law, its teaching is inadequate. Mr. Arnold will accept neither the gospel of Christ nor the gospel of Science, without excluding just that which is characteristic of it as a gospel ; and so he falls between the two stools. His .catechism of Christianity without God will be accepted whenever agnostics begin to take to gnosis, and Christians begin to ignore the one thread on which every lesson of Christ's teaching is strung,—not sooner. At present, Mr. Arnold fights "as one beating the air."