29 JULY 1905, Page 9


" QHOULD Clergymen Criticise the Bible ?" The Daily Mail has opened its columns to a discussion under this heading. The word " criticise " is of somewhat uncertain significance, but it is easy to gather from the letter signed " Laicus," which begins the discussion, the sense in which the disputants are expected to use it. "Is it permissible," he asks, "for a Christian minister to subject the Scriptures to the tests that an expert would apply to an ancient manu- script or Assyrian tablet?" His conclusion is that it is not permissible, and he brings a railing accusation against various clerical critics, including the Bishops of Birmingham and Winchester, for doing so.

This letter, as was of course its intention, produced a large number of others expressing agreement and disagreement. Out of these we have chosen three as typical of three points of view. These points of view, we think, might roughly be called the obscurantist, the Anglican Catholic, and the Protestant. We leave entirely out of count the more ignorant and virulent communications. When a man speaks by name of a respected dignitary of the Church of England as "a self-confessed pagan," or likens learned and pious divines of all shades of opinion in the Christian Churches to "Antichrist," or dogmatically asserts that "if this Higher Criticism be correct, then the Bible is a forgery," it is not worth while for reason- able people to pay attention to his words. Leaving, then, these fanatics on one side, we would consider the arguments of "Rural bean," Mr. James Adderley, and Mr. Silvester

Home. The letter signed "Rural Dean" is longer than most, and appeared next, after that of " Laicus," with whom its writer is in complete agreement. "These modern critics," he declares, "are so misusing the acids of their mordant science that the hitherto impregnable rock of Holy Scripture is in danger of dissolving and crumbling away." It is not, he goes on, from " well-known and earmarked higher critics" that the Church has the most to fear, "for, being known and mis- trusted, even their most dangerous assertions are discounted as soon as made." The dangerous men, in his opinion, are "our trusted clergy?' He, like " Laicus," falls upon the Bishop of Birmingham. Dr. Gore himself, having "a particular bias towards the spiritual sides of things," may not, he admits, " suffer injury from searching the realm of Revelation" ; but what, he asks, of those "who are allured by the freedom lie seems to foreshadow, who grasp at his solutions of religious difficulties as drowning men catch at straws, and then find themselves anchorless and rudderless upon a sea of spiritual despair" ? The "Rural Dean's" mixed metaphors do not obscure his meaning. He is in earnest—and in terror.

Mr. James Adderley takes a very different tone. First of all, he says, the people of England must make up their minds as to what the Bible is. Most of them, he declares, look upon it—in his .opinion erroneously—as a mine out of which each man can dig his own religion. According to his view, the Bible is "a priceless set of writings containing ,a revelation of God which has been gathered together by a Society called the Church, which has always believed itself to be inspired by the Spirit of One who called Himself the Son of God, and in whose absolute truth it believes." He denies that verbal infallibility is part of the faith. Every statement in the Bible is not, he maintains, infallible; nor are all its statements of equal spiritual and moral value. The Church, he says, has always claimed to explain the Bible, and he reminds his readers of "the old Catholic formula : the Church to teach; the Bible to prove." A clergyman is therefore at liberty to criticise the Bible ; but if his studies lead him to differ from the decisions of Church Councils, then he must leave the Church. In fact, he may criticise the Bible—which is not the final authority—but not the Church.

Last of all we come to the Protestant point of view. "The only possible conclusion," writes Mr. Silvester Horne, to be drawn from the letters of those who deny to the clergy the right to criticise the Bible is that it cannot "stand the full light of historical and critical investigation. This conclusion it is everybody's business to contest who really reveres the Bible and believes in it." Protestant Christendom, he goes on, "has grown strong by thinking, and if the intellect is to abdicate its function and blind credulity to be proposed instead of intelligent belief, Protestant Churches may as well shut their doors. We do not want to breed a race of insipid pietists, but of fearless, stalwart, resolute, masculine Christian thinkers." He strongly deprecates the notion which has got abroad that all criticism must needs be destructive. Much of it has been confirmatory. Many critics have, no doubt, come to too hasty conclusions. Let us then criticise the critics. "After all," he concludes, "there are other ways of testing the Christian revelation than the critical. There is the experimental. The final argument for the authority of the New Testament is a true Christian."

Wide as seem the differences between these three writers, they are all, no doubt, united in aim. They all desire to further the cause of Christianity. They differ only about the best way to do it. "Rural Dean" considers that the best way is to forbid its accredited teachers to think about the origin of the earliest documents relating to its Founder and its systematisers. For the moment a man, be he clergyman or layman, begins to think about the history of the Canon he becomes, in however . humble a way, a "higher critic,"— that is, he begins to examine the Bible in the light of history and of literature. All the clergy cannot help knowing that the Canon of the New Testament was not closed till the fourth century, and that its final settlement was the result of long and bitter disputes in the Church; but from those facts and all that they involve a clergyman, in the opinion of "Rural Dean," must steadfastly turn his mind. Is it possible that men thus intellectually cramped should attain a mental or a moral. stature which will enable them to hold their own against men whose minds have

developed in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom ? To forbid a man to think in any direction is almost certainly to make him an intellectual dwarf or a hypocrite; and surely the Church must beware lest she fill her ranks with such at a moment like the present. To do so would be to bring about a complete divorce between the Church and the people. Or is it possible that "Rural Dean" imagines that the Church by ordering her ministers to bold their tongues will be able to silence Biblical criticism among the laity, and relegate it to a special circle of learned professors ? If so, as Milton said of an earlier attempt to suppress speculation, the " enter- prise " must be counted among "the number of vain and impossible attempts, and he who were pleasantly disposed could not well avoid to liken it to the exploit of that gallant man who thought to pound up the crows by shutting his park gate."

Perhaps the writer of the letter we are criticising would say that in this very controversy appearing in the Daily Mail men like Dr. Emil Reich have written upon his side. Super- ficially speaking, it would seem so. Dr. Reich has, no doubt, taken a side, and a side which is antagonistic to clerical critics of the Bible; but if we read his letter carefully we can hardly help doubting whether he and the men whose champion he at the moment appears to be are fundamentally agreed. We quote to illustrate our suggestion. "The Bible," Dr. Reich says, "will stand any honest and truly historic criticism "—surely that is the criticism which should be applied to "an ancient manuscript "—" but, like the victims of seventeenth-century criminal law, the Bible cannot stand the application of the inquisitorial principle It is more than evident that clergymen, in the present condition of Biblical criticism, are unfit to criticise Josephus or Pliny the Younger, let alone the Old and New Testament."

Turning to Mr. Adderler's interesting and temperate letter, we cannot help thinking that his words also contain an assumption very dangerous to the Christian cause in the twentieth century. He implies that if a man by the study of the Bible comes to the conclusion that the Church upon a given point is in error, he must leave the Church. If Mr. Adderley had said the Church of Rome, we should have agreed with him. But the Anglican Church maintains in her Articles that she is founded upon the Scriptures, and she has main- tained all through her history a right of appeal to the Bible. Now if the Scriptures are verbally infallible, we quite agree that their infallibility must rest upon the infallibility of the Church which selected them ; but if, as he admits, they are not, then it is surely admissible to turn from the historian to his authorities, to make what is called "original research." Mr. Adderley's limitation of a clergyman's right of criticism might turn out of the Church many a man who could honestly say that, after giving his best abilities to its consideration, he believed the whole New Testament to be substantially true, yet found it less dogmatic than Church Councils. Can the Anglican, can any, branch of the Christian Church afford to lose such men ? The standpoint of the "thinking Protestant" is, in our judgment, the strongest to-day, the most likely, that ,is, to further the Christian cause. All the same, we must admit that many difficulties confront the believer in rational Christianity, and that the success of his teaching depends upon the gradual advance of the world in education and common-sense.

It is very difficult to make uneducated people who know nothing of history or philosophy realise that a given chronicle of past events is not false because it is not infallible, although their whole experience of life should prove to them this fact. If various men at an interval of years write each an account of the same events, they are certain to differ a little, and to be swayed each by his own temperament; but if we say their evidence is therefore worthless, all political and historical experience is destroyed, all justice arrives at a standstill, all research becomes impossible. On the other hand, if we must not ask when these statements were made, and by whom, whether the record has been tampered with, &e., &c., it is plain to all beholders that we do not altogether believe them. Surely the greater faith is with those who desire to bring everything to the light. There Is, indeed, a kind of timorous atheism in the man who dares not trust God to render all efforts to interpret His Word—and what is criticism but interpretation ?—work together for good. What should we think of the title to an estate if the owner declared that no man should ever be allowed to examine his deeds, and that every attempt to do so would be regarded by him as an outrage ? If there were now no God, if He had inspired the Bible and ceased to exist, or presided at Church Councils till the Reformation and then gone "on a journey," we should certainly advise all ministers of the Gospel to take shelter in one or other of the camps claiming infallibility, for outside them they could hope to learn nothing of the spiritual life. But if Christianity is true, and the Spirit of God, "who is above all, and through all, and in you all," is to lead us into all truth, we may surely have boldness not only to "search," bat to expect "Revelation."