25 MAY 1867, Page 10


irlIE Pall Mall Gazette of Wednesday, in a powerful article on 'the Bishop of Salitrbury's charge, and the strange effect ivhich it produced on the Rev. Mr. 'Templer, Rector of Burton Bradstock, and the thirty-four Churchwardens who protested against Dr. Hamilton's doctrines, identifies the principle of the sacerdotal theory of the Bishop,—whether true or false, which it ironically professes to leave undecided,—with the Obeah of the Negro superstition. The writer maintains that whatever efficacy the Bishop claims for baptism, absolution, the eucharist, &c., under his view, he can claim only on the plea that the Church of England (as part of the Catholic Church) is in possession of the true Obeah, or form of incantation, while all inefficient rituals,— the African rites included,—are only false Obeahs, emulating the powers, while missing the magic secret, of the true. 'The writer admits, of course, that there may be all sorts of moral differences betvoeen the influence exercised by different shades of religious culture through the different processes of ecclesiastical magic, but he maintains that they are all in principle of the same sort, the difference between them consisting wholly, in their own view, in the question of the authenticity of the special ceremonial which works the "invisible miracle." If the African Obeah man could show evidence convincing to his own mind that a particular form of words, handed down by former Obeah men, when pronounced over the food of any of his victims, will change the physical natured that food, and render it poisonous instead of nourishing, he has the same kind of evidence for his belief, if not precisely 'the same degree, which the Bishop of Salisbury has for his -opinion that a special form of words pronounced by a special -caste over the wine and bread of the sacramental service changes .specifically and unspeakably the essential properties of those substances. According to the writer in the Pall Mall, the Bishop of Salisbury could conquer in the competition with the Obeali man, 'only by showing him on the one hand that the Anglican tradition was inconsistent with the Obeah tradition, and on the other that the proof of supernatural origin for the former was much more des,euve than that for the latter.

New, while we, of course, agree heartily with our contemporary in rejecting the superstition, as we hold it, of the Bishop of Salis- eleuryttud his school, eve see a great disadvantage in any sort of (*rhetorical exaggerations or caricatures on subjects of this nature. 'They are apt not only to embitter discussion, but very often also to confuse it. It seems to us that there is absolutely no evidence "of special power given to a sacerdotal caste in any Church, and .that the superstitious belief in such sacerdotal powers has been -the root of all sorts of moral, spiritual, and even physical evils: But in spite of this, we see the broadest possible distinction in -principle between the supposed magic of the Obeah man and .the supposed "invisible miracles" of the Christian priesthood, and - though we believe both to be equally imaginary, we can see good 'a-orison why those who have faith in the latter should feel it -gratuitous insult to have their belief classed under the same species as the former. And this, we think, we can make evident.

In the first place, the Christian priest, though he often believes till the connection of arbitrary symbols,—like the laying on of .As-sprinkling with water, pronouncing a form of words over the breadeand seine, _orea. _form of _eh-saltier-1 over the sinner (supposed penitent),—with " invisible nair.aoles," never supposes that there leaner force in the special words. uttered or gestures per- formed, apart from the positive divine decree which is conceived to give them their sacredness. ,The words and gestares are to bins only authorized signals of .a divine act which he believes will be performed simultaneously with them, because he supposes himself to have reasonable .proof of a divine . promise to that effect. On the other hand,. all true sorcery consistein ascrib- ing to words, and gestures, and ceremonial forms an inde- pendent spell not resting upon regulations put forth by the divine will, and revealed in the .ordinary way to -human N.Icr reason, but intrinsic to the words and nets themselves. The difference is immeasurable, because the supposed evidence of the- miraculous efficiency of the Church's consecrating or absolving formula is in the former ease traced back to facts of the reality of which the intellect of man can. fairly judge, and to the will of a Being on whose claims upon. our trust the human conscience can fairly pronounce, while in the latter case the whole appeal is made to the dazed and affrighted fancy of ignorant -wonder. It may be,—we hold, in common, we imagine, with the Pall Mall, that it is,—as untrue to suppose that God has drawn up a set of private regulations providing for the working of a continuous series of "invisible miracles "by a. special caste, as it is to suppose that if you can but guess or overhear the formula of a particular incanta- tion, you have gained an instrument of enormous force which yea can use at pleasure. But while the latter is trust in magic, the former is at bottom only a roundabout trust in God.. If any one can convince himself by reason that God has expressly authorized a certain set of signals upon which, if accurately given by the appointed persons,. He will, work certain miraculous changesin the human breast, then such a person's trust in the appointed regula- tions is directly derived from his trust in God. We haven° more right to call that magic, than to call confidence that God will answer our prayers by giving-us a new spirit, magic. No doubt it is inch lees reasonable. It rests upon a long series of very questionable links of evidence, and cannot be verified, as the grant of divine help in answer to prayer can be verified, by our individuaL experieuce. But the ultimate difference, after all, between it and trust in magic is deep, broad, essential. Its root, aselistinguishecl from the fruit, is spiritual and moral,—belief that God is a righteous Being who will keep faith with us in all He has promised. No doubtit is the highest credulousness, —moral as well as intellectual credulous- ness,—to be so easily convinced,, awlon scarcely any evidence, that He has given us any promise to conform His own acts accurately to the words of so corruptible an institution as a priesthood. But still the root of the conviction is faith in a righteous and faithful Being, while the weak part of it is only in the slender character of the evidence which it professes to adduce that promises so remarkable have been given us by such a Being. Nevertheless the difference be- tween faith in apparently arbitraryrules sincerely attributed to a holy God, and trust in the magic of potent words and signs as swell, seems to use vast one, which it is unfair to overlook. If any one of us could be convinced that Gad had promised to give him a fresh measure of His Spirit, on. certain conditions, which though they might seem strange and incomprehensible were yet not, &hely either unjust or-unreasonable, which of us would refuse ta conform to such regulations ? The superstition of the High-Church theory consists, as we think, in accepting such very inappreciable evi- dence for the fact that God has authorized such artificial rules. But this is a very different kind of superstition indeed, from. a superstition which has no root of trust in a personal righteousness to start from,—which begins and ends in the fanciful effect pro- duced by incantations upon the mind. The writer in the Pall Mall, .whatever he may himself believe as to the miracle, would scarcely maintain that it -was a 'hit of Obeahism for the blind man in St. John's _gospel when toll by our Lord to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, in order that he might receive his. eight, to comply with that command. Yet that was appseently ate:arbi- trary a condition of the gift of sight, as the institution of n sacerdotal order might be of absolution. The only difference is that the blind mate—if the miracle was true, as we believe,-- had our Lord's living word for the arbitrary condition ; while the Ritualists have only a long series of very uncertain inferences from very doubtful premisses to depend upon for the fact,—in itself a priori improbable, —that any such conditions of pardon have been laid down at all. But this is only a difference in the amotnit of evi- dence; and it is impossible to say that, if the evidence of divine authority were equal,—it was not as much an act of superstition for the blind man to accept the arbitrary condition imposed by our Lord on His gift, as it would be an act of superstition to -accept the-arbitrary conditions-imposed mil:Bs-forgiveness of sin. True, the evidence is not equal. -But.if the Ritualists are mere Obeah men because they complrwith an -arbitrary condition of "in- 'visible miracles," which they believe (on inadequate evidence) to be of divine origin, then the blind man in St. John's Gospel was an Obeah man for complying with an equally arbi- trary condition of an "invisible miracle" of which le hoped to reap the advantage. No stress can be laid upon the word " invisible," because all the spiritual influences granted by God to men -are invisible. And as for the word "miracle," it is very doubtful what it means, or whether it has any intelligible application at all to such presumed divine acts as those which are announced in baptism and absolution. We should consider any ritual to be ecclesiastical " magic " which relied on the in- trinsic power of the form of words used, and so far as it did not trace back all their presumed efficacy to the inscrutable law of a holy God. But so far as it endeavours to do this,—and all Chris- tian ritualism- does profess- to do this,—it cannot fairly be charged with any similarity of principle to sorcery. It does rest upon the weakest of all threads of intellectual inference ; but its principle after all, is unhesitating belief in the promises of perfect Holiness, a principle totally distinct from that of any conceivable system of And this distinction of principle, which it seems to us a great rhetorical injustice to overlook, no doubt does to a large extent protect ritualistic Christianity against most, though not all, of the moral excesses of thaumaturgic superstitions. The extra- vagances of ititualism can never wholly ignore their origin. They must keep within the bounds of what they regard as the divine con- stitution. That constitutional limit, however ill observed, does at least guard ag,aiust most of the moral monstrosities of mere sorcery. The regulations of the Church cannot often be allowed to issue in what the Lord of the Church has everywhere forbid- den. Mere appeals to the superstitious fancy are wider no such restraints. True Obeabism, African or English, owns no moral law, as it never pretends to be the outcome of a divine will. It has no moral root, and therefore it has no moral limits. The gipsy fortune-teller, whose preternatural -claims rest, as the Pall Mall asserts, on precisely the same sort of principle as the Ritua- lists' power to give the signal for "invisible miracles," does not profess to start from faith in God, and therefore has frequently no scruple in serving the Devil.

Of course we do not suppose that the Pall Mall Gazette, in so cavalierly asserting that the Sacerdotalists and the Obeahmen and the Gipsies stand on the same intellectual ground, had any inten- tion to affirm that there was no moral difference between them. Of course the writer of the article in question sees the gulf of practical distinctions as clearly as we. Bat we believe that he is guilty of rhetorieal exaggeration and caricature in identifying the principle of the sacerdotalista with that of mere magic at all. Those principles are really as different as those of the elaborate ritual of Leviticus and Deuteronomy from those of the art of Pharoah's magicians. The one formed a human system, believed, on inadequate and untrustworthy evidence, to be of divine authority in all its details, and was observed—by those at least who observed it best— out of profound reverence for Jehovah. The latter was a mere system of natural magic, either of wild superstition, or imposture, or both. Nothing is gained against our intellectual adversaries by caricatures, however telling and vigorous, of their principle, or by finding hard names for them which only irritate—by con- vincing them of our ignorance of their actual faith, and too often implanting a very groundless suspicion of an intention to misrepresent and discredit them.