A FINAL PHILOSOPHY.
The war waged by modern thought against supernatural revelation in the name of the so-called “advanced” science is looked upon in a different light by Catholic and by Protestant thinkers. Catholic philosophers and divines look upon it as a noisy but futile effort of modern anti-Christianism to shake and overthrow the mighty rock on which the incarnate God has been pleased to build his indefectible church. They know, of course, that they must be ready to fight, for the church to which they belong is still militant; but, far from apprehending a coming defeat, they feel certain of the victory. God is with them, and, on God’s infallible promise, the church whose cause they serve is sure of her final triumph. Protestant divines, on the contrary, hold no tokens of future victories, and look upon infidel science not as an enemy whom they have to fight, but as an old acquaintance, and a rather capricious one, whom they must try to keep within bounds of decency, and from whom they may borrow occasionally a few newly-forged weapons against the Catholic Church. Some sincere Protestants, considering the tendency of scientific thought to destroy all supernatural faith, saw, indeed, the necessity of resisting its baneful incursions; but their resistance did not, and could not, prove successful. Protestantism is the notorious 1202offspring of rebellion; it is not built on the rock; it has no claims to special divine assistance; it cannot reckon but on human weakness for its support; it is supremely inconsistent; in short, it is no proof against the anti-Christian spirit of the age, and, what is still more discouraging, it is fully conscious of its progressive dissolution.
These considerations and others of a like nature kept continually coming to our mind as we were perusing the pages of the singular work whose title stands at the head of this article. The great object of Dr. Shields is to reconcile religion with science by means of what he calls final philosophy.
In the introduction to the work the author points out the limits and the topics of Christian science; the logical, historical, and practical relations of science and religion; the possibility of their reconciliation, and the importance of their harmony to science, to religion, to philosophy. The work is divided into two parts. The first part is a review of the conduct of philosophical parties as to the relations between science and religion; whilst the second part propounds and explains the philosophical theory of the harmony of science and religion, as conceived by the author. The first part opens with a chapter on the early conflicts and alliances between science and religion, where the author investigates the causes of the present disturbed relations between religion and science, and traces them from the dawn of the Greek philosophy to the Protestant Reformation; describes the conflicts of philosophy and mythology in the pre-Christian age; the wars of pagan philosophy against Christianity in the first centuries of the present era; the alliance of theology 1203with philosophy in the patristic age; the predominance of theology and the subjugation of philosophy in the scholastic age; and, lastly, the revolt of philosophy against theology in the age of the Reformation.
In a second chapter he describes the modern antagonism between science and religion, the conflict in astronomy, in geology, in anthropology, in psychology, in sociology, in theology, in philosophy, and in civilization.
The third chapter, which fills more than two hundred pages, describes the modern indifferentism between science and religion, under the name of “schism” or “rupture” in all the branches of science already enumerated—viz., the schism in astronomy, in geology, in anthropology, etc., to which is added the schism in metaphysics.
In the fourth chapter the author examines the modern eclecticism between science and religion: eclecticism in astronomy, eclecticism in geology, and so on through the other branches of knowledge already mentioned.
The fifth and last chapter describes the modern scepticism between science and religion: scepticism in astronomy, in geology, in anthropology, and in all the aforesaid branches of human knowledge, with a conclusion about “effete religious culture.”
The second part of the work, though much shorter than the first, is divided also into five chapters, of which the first aims to show that philosophy is the natural umpire between religion and science, wherever they are in conflict; the second expounds and refutes the positive philosophy; the third examines and criticises the absolute philosophy; the fourth states that 1204final philosophy, or a theory of perfectible science, may bring about the conciliation of positivism and absolutism; and the last offers a sketch of the ultimate philosophy, the science of sciences, derived scientifically from their own historical and logical development, and whose characteristic features the author thus glowingly describes in the closing sentence of his work:
“The summary want of the age is that last philosophy into which shall have been sifted all other philosophy, which shall be at once catholic and eclectic, which shall be the joint growth and fruit of reason and faith, and which shall shed forth, through every walk of research, the blended light of discovery and revelation; a philosophy which shall be no crude aggregate of decaying systems and doctrines, but their distilled issue and living effect, and which shall not have sprung full-born from any one mind or people, but mature as the common work and reward of all; a philosophy which, proceeding upon the unity of truth, shall establish the harmony of knowledge through the intelligent concurrence of the human with the divine intellect, and the rational subjection of the finite to the Infinite reason; a philosophy, too, which shall be as beneficent as it is sacred, which in the act of healing the schisms of truth shall also heal the sects of the school, of the church, and of the state, and, while regenerating human art, both material and moral, shall at length regenerate human society; a philosophy, in a word, which shall be the means of subjecting the earth to man and man to God, by grouping the sciences, with their fruits and trophies, at the feet of Omniscience, and there converging and displaying all laws and causes in God, the cause of causes and of laws, of whom are all things and in whom all things consist; to whom alone be glory” (pp. 587, 588).
These are noble words. It is certain that our age is in great need of a philosophy at once catholic and eclectic, as the author very wisely remarks. But it is our firm conviction that if Dr. Shields 1205had studied our great Catholic authors, he would know that there is a philosophy and a theology which does already all that he wishes to do by his projected final philosophy, and much better too. We praise his excellent intention; but we do not think that his project has any chance of being carried out in a proper manner. We even doubt if a newsystem of philosophy can be found so comprehensive, coherent, impartial, and perfect in all its parts as to justify the high expectation entertained by the author.
This new system of philosophy cannot be the product of infidel thought, as is evident. Hence none of the advocates of advanced science can have a part in the projected work, except as opponents whom philosophy shall have to refute, or as claimants upon whose rights philosophy has to pronounce its judicial sentence.
Nor will the new system be the product of Catholic thought; for we Catholics are under the impression that the world has no need of new philosophical systems. As for us, we have a philosophy of admirable depth, great soundness, and incomparable precision, which has ever successfully refuted heresy, silenced infidelity, and harmonized the teachings of revelation and science to our full satisfaction. This philosophy can, indeed, be improved in some particulars, and we continually strive to improve it: but we are determined not to change its principles, which we know to be true, and not to depart from its method, which has no rival in the whole world of speculative science.
Who, then, would frame and develop the new and “final” philosophy? Free-thinkers? Freemasons? 1206Free-religionists? These sectaries would doubtless be glad to dress philosophy in a white apron, with the square in one hand and the triangle in the other; for, if the thing were feasible, they would acquire at once that philosophical importance which they have not, and which they have always been anxious to secure, but in vain, by their united efforts. But then we are sure that they would only develop some humanitarian theory calculated to flatter the sceptical spirit of the age, and to merge all creeds in naturalism and free-religion; and this, of course, would not do, for the “final philosophy” should, according to Dr. Shields’ view, maintain the rights of supernatural revelation no less than of natural reason.
Should, then, the great work be abandoned to the hands, industry, and discernment of the Protestant sects? Men of talent and men of learning are to be found everywhere; but as to philosophers, we doubt whether any can be found among Protestants who will be honest enough to draw the legitimate consequences of their principles, when those consequences would imply a condemnation of their religious system. In other terms, if the work were to be entrusted to Protestant thinkers, one might, without need of preternatural illumination, boldly predict that the whole affair must end in nothing but failure. What can be expected of a Protestant thinker, or of any number of Protestant thinkers, whether divines or philosophers, but an inconsistent and preposterous tampering with truth? Protestantism lacks, and ever will lack, a uniform body of doctrines, whether philosophical or theological; it has no head, no centre, no 1207positive principle, no recognized living authority, no bond of union; it has only a mutilated Bible which it discredits with contradictory interpretations; it is neither a church nor a school, but a Babel confusion of uncertain and discordant views; and it has no better foundation than the shifting sand of private judgment. On what ground, then, can a Protestant apologist force upon modern thought those shreds of revealed truth which he claims to hold on no better authority than his own fallible and changeable reason? And what else can he oppose to the invading spirit of unbelief? Alas! Protestantism is nothing but a house divided within itself, a ship where all hands are captains with no crew at their orders, an army whose generals have no authority to command and whose soldiers have no duty to obey. Such a House cannot but crumble into dust; such a ship must founder; and such an army cannot dream of Christian victories, as it is doomed to waste its strength in perpetual riots, unless it succeeds in putting an end to its intestine troubles by self-destruction. It is evident, then, that “final philosophy” cannot be the product of Protestant thought.
Dr. Shields seems to have seen these difficulties; for he holds that such a philosophy must not spring full-born from any one mind or people, but mature “as the common work and reward of all.” Here, however, the question arises whether this mode of working is calculated to give satisfactory results. When a number of persons contribute to the execution of a great work, it must be taken for granted that, if their effort has to prove a success, they must work 1208on the same plan and tend in the same direction, so that the action of the one may not interfere with the action of the other. If all men were animated by an intense love of truth, and of nothing but truth, if they all could agree to start from the same principles, if they were all modest in their inferences, if they were so humble as to recognize their error when pointed out to them, and if some other similar dispositions were known to exist in all or in most students of science and philosophy, Dr. Shields’ plan might indeed be carried out with universal satisfaction. But men, unfortunately, love other things besides truth and more than truth: they love themselves, their own ideas, and their own prejudices; they ignore or pervert principles; they defend their blunders, and even embellish them for the sake of notoriety, and they are obstinate in their errors. On the other hand, we see that an ignorant public is always ready to applaud any philosophic monstrosity which wears a fashionable dress; and this is one of the greatest obstacles to the triumph of truth, as error grows powerful wherever it is encouraged by popular credulity. Thus error and truth will continue to fight in the future as they did in the past. The history of philosophy is a history of endless discords. The wildest conceptions have ever found supporters, and charlatanism has ever been applauded. The only epoch in which error had lost its hold of philosophy, and was compelled to retire almost entirely from the field of speculation, was when theology and philosophy, bound together in a defensive and offensive alliance under the leadership of the great Thomas Aquinas, so overpowered the Moorish philosophers 1209and confounded their rationalistic followers that it was no longer possible for error to wear a mask. Then it was that the principles of a truly “final” philosophy were laid down, faith and reason reconciled, and false theories discredited. And it is for this reason that the disciples of error, who after the time of the Lutheran revolt have never ceased to attack some religious truth, style that scholastic epoch a dark age. Dark, indeed, for error, which had lost much power of mischief, but bright for philosophy, which had triumphed, and glorious for Christianity, which reigned supreme. If any age must be called dark, it is the one we live in, owing to the numbers of ignorant scribblers, unprincipled men in responsible positions, and illogical scientists who disgrace it.
This state of things is the product of free thought, which has disturbed and nearly destroyed the harmony of all the sciences, and all but extinguished the light of philosophical principles. The idea of employing free thought as an auxiliary for the defence of philosophy is so preposterous on its very face that none but a sectary or a sceptic could have entertained it. It must be pretty evident to all that such a course is like introducing the enemy into the fortress. Introduce Draper and Büchner, Tyndall and Moleschott, Haeckel and Darwin, Huxley and Clifford into the parlor of philosophy, and you will see at once how utterly mistaken is Mr. Shields if he reckons on them for his great work; you will see with what self-reliance, arrogance, and intolerance they condemn everything contrary to their favorite views. Tell them that they must help you to make a “final philosophy” which shall reconcile 1210Scripture and science, Christianity and human reason. What would they think of such a proposal? Would they condescend to answer otherwise than by a sneer? But let us admit that they will favor you with an honest answer. What will they say?
Draper would probably remark that philosophy cannot undertake any such task, as the conflict between religion and science has its origin and reason of being in the nature of things, which is unchangeable.
Büchner would laugh impertinently at the idea of a God, a Scripture, and a religion.
Tyndall would have nothing to do with the scheme; for modern science cannot shake hands with revelation without encouraging a belief in miracles and in the utility of prayer—both which things science has exploded for ever, as conflicting with inviolable laws.
Moleschott would object that revelation and science are irreconcilable, at least, as to psychology; for the study of physiology has made it clear that thought consists in a series of molecular movements, and he is not willing to renounce this new dogma of science or to modify in any manner his view of the question for the sake of a new philosophy.
Haeckel would indignantly protest against the scheme, for there is no philosophy but the Evolution of species and the Descent of man; and he would turn to the great Darwin, his respected friend, for an approving smile.
The great Darwin would then smile approvingly on his loving and faithful disciple, and remark that Logic, for instance, which is believed to be a part of philosophy, and his Descent of man are on such 1211bad terms that it would be but a waste of time to attempt a reconciliation between them, so he would let them alone.
The talkative Huxley would gladly second Mr. Darwin’s resolution by the further remark that a logic or a philosophy which cannot be weighed in the balance of the chemist, or be verified by the microscope, or be illustrated by the series of animal remains preserved in palæontological museums, has no claims to engage the attention of the noble scientists present in the room.
Clifford would scout the idea of a philosophy enslaved by theological prejudices. For free thought cannot come to terms with theology; it must combat it in the name of progress and civilization with all available weapons, and with an ardor proportionate to the grandeur and importance of the cause.
This sketch, which is certainly not over-colored, might be enlarged almost indefinitely by the introduction of other living or dead materialists, pantheists, atheists, theists, idealists, free-religionists, etc., whose discordant views would have to be either accepted, reformed, or refuted, as the case may be. John Stuart Mill and Comte, Bain and Spencer, Kant and Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, Hume and Hobbes, and a host of other minor lights of heterodox thought, would have to be harmonized, if possible, or else condemned and forgotten. But let the dead rest in peace and suppose that none but living thinkers are to be consulted. A dilemma presents itself: either Dr. Shields and his co-operators get the best of fashionable errors, and reject them, or not. If not, then a final philosophy reconciling revelation with science will be out of the 1212question. If yes, then the final philosophy will be denounced by the evicted party as a mass of unscientific and à priori reasoning, a counterfeit of mediæval metaphysics, a tardy and clumsy attempt at resuscitating the discredited notions of a slavish and intolerant past. Newspaper writers, pamphleteers, lecturers, and professors would sneer at your final philosophy, as they now sneer at the scholastic doctrine; and the ever-increasing mass of sciolists, who think with the brains of others, would take up the sneer and propagate it even to the ends of the world. Thus science and religion, so long as human pride and human obstinacy are not curbed by the keenest love of truth, will remain antagonistic, and the present war will continue in spite of the “final philosophy.”
Dr. Shields very explicitly declares that he believes in God, in Christ, and in the Bible. For this we cannot but praise him. Yet his book leads thoughtful readers to suspect that his faith is still undeveloped, uncertain, indefinite, and, as it were, in an embryonic condition. In fact, religion and science, as he conceives, are still at war, and revelation must yet be reconciled with reason by the aid of final philosophy; and this final philosophy is a thing of the future. What will he believe meanwhile? What will all other Protestants believe? Must they adopt a provisional scepticism? This is, indeed, what most of them do; nor can we see that any other course is open to them, if they are waiting for the final philosophy. But, since “without faith it is impossible to please God,” how will they be saved? The question deserves an answer.
1213There is a science which teaches that man’s soul is not immortal, not spiritual, not even a substance, but only a molecular function, which cannot survive the body. Must Dr. Shields’ disciples remain uncertain about this point of doctrine until the final philosophy is published? And there is a science which maintains with the greatest assurance that what we call “God” is nothing more, in reality, than nature, or the universe and its forces and laws. Must we suspend our judgment on this all-important subject on the plea that final philosophy has not yet shed its brilliant light on the question? And there is a science, too, which contends that the human will, though long believed to be free, is nevertheless determined by exterior and interior causes according to a law of strict physical necessity which admits of no exception. Ought we, then, to consider ourselves irresponsible for our deliberate actions, till the final philosophy shall teach us that we are not mere machines, and that the freedom of the human will has at last been reconciled with the general laws of causation? To our mind, a Christian divine cannot for a moment admit that such a provisional scepticism could be recommended as a healthy intellectual preparation for the attainment of truth. Nor could a Christian divine fancy for a moment that a provident God has hitherto left mankind without sufficient light to understand and solve such capital questions as we have mentioned, and many others whose solution was equally indispensable for the moral and the religious education of the human race. The truth is that mankind has been endowed from the beginning with the knowledge of the principles of 1214moral science, the laws of reasoning, the precepts of religion, and the eternal destiny of the just and the unjust. This knowledge was transmitted from fathers to sons, but was soon obscured by the surging of turbulent passions and a proud desire of independence. The human family soon emancipated itself from the moral law, and learned to stifle the voice of conscience by false excuses and by worldly maxims. Nations fell into polytheism, idolatry, revolting superstitions, and barbarism. Indeed, a few pagan philosophers, still faintly illumined by the remnants of the primitive tradition, attempted the reconstruction of human science; but they were only partially successful, and their names became famous no less for the errors with which they are still associated than for vindicated truths. Even the Jews, who were in possession of an authentic record of the past, and could read the Law and the Prophets, often adopted pagan views, or at least mistook the spirit of their sacred books by a too material adherence to the killing letter. At last Jesus Christ, God and man, the light that enlightens the world, the new Adam, the divine Solomon, came, and brought us the remedy of which our ignorance and corruption had so much need. He gave us his Gospel of truth and life, and not only restored but increased and perfected the knowledge of divine and human things; he founded his church; and he appointed, in the person of his vicar on earth, a permanent and infallible judge of revealed doctrine. The two hundred and odd millions of Christians who recognize this infallible judge know distinctly what they ought to believe. They need not 1215await the decisions of any “final philosophy” in order to be fixed on such questions as the origin of matter, the creation of man, the liberty of the soul, the existence of a personal God, and the worship acceptable to him. And as to the scientific questions, these millions very naturally argue that any theory which clashes with the doctrine defined by the church bears in itself its own condemnation, whilst all the other theories are a fit subject of free discussion by the rational methods. This is our intellectual position in regard to science; and we venture to say that even Dr. Shields could not find a better one either for himself or for his pupils and friends. But he, unfortunately, does not belong to the true and living church of Christ; he belongs to a spurious system of Christianity, which countenances intellectual rebellion, and which, after having imprudently fostered free thought, is now at a loss how to restrain its destructive influence. Hence he is anxious to be on good terms with all free-thinkers, in the hope, we assume, that, by yielding in a measure to the spirit of infidelity, some arrangement may be arrived at, equally acceptable to both sides, by which Protestantism, as an old but now useless and despised accomplice, may be left to die a natural death. Thus the “final philosophy” of Dr. Shields, so far as we can judge from the details of his work, will put in the same balance God and man, revelation and free thought, wisdom and folly, with the pitiful result that we have briefly pointed out.
Final philosophy, as conceived by our author, can be of no service to the Catholic, and of no great benefit to the Protestant, world. At 1216any rate a truly “final” philosophy has scarcely a chance of seeing the light in the present century, especially through the exertions of Protestant divines. The century to which we belong, though famous for many useful discoveries, is even more conspicuous for its great ignorance of speculative philosophy. In the middle ages, which were not half so dark as modern thinkers assume, there was less superficial diffusion of knowledge, but a great deal more of philosophy. Giants, like St. Anselm, Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, had collected, sifted, and harmonized the philosophical lore of all the preceding ages, refuted the errors of a presumptuous pagan or heretical science, shown the agreement of revelation with reason, reconciled metaphysics with theology, and made such a body of philosophical and theological doctrines as would, and did, satisfy the highest aspirations of deeply-cultivated intellects. It is men of this type that could have written a “final” philosophy. But who are we men of the nineteenth century? Are we not mere pigmies when compared with these old masters? Where do we find profound metaphysicians and profound theologians? Some, of course, are to be found in the Catholic Church, which alone has preserved the traditions of the ancient intellectual world; but we do not think that any one of them would consider himself clever enough to write a “final” philosophy. And should such a competent man be found, who would care for his doctrine? Scientists would certainly not bend to his authority, as they only laugh at metaphysics, nor to his arguments, which they would scarcely understand; and unbelievers would probably not even listen to him, as 1217they would be afraid of being awakened from their spiritual lethargy.
On the other hand, to expect that a Protestant divine, or a body of Protestant divines, will be able to compose such a final philosophy as Dr. Shields describes in the passage we have quoted is the merest delusion. Not that there are not able and learned men in the Protestant sects, but because the Protestant mind is trained to look at things in the light of expediency more than of principles, and, besides other disqualifications already referred to, it sadly lacks the jewel of philosophical consistency. Dr. Shields, who holds, as we gladly recognize, a prominent place among the learned men of his own denomination, is by no means exempt from the weaknesses of his Protestant compeers. For example, he is apt to confound things which should be distinguished, and to draw consequences which go farther than the premises; he frequently yields to partisan prejudices; he makes false assumptions; he seems ready to sacrifice some religious views to modern thought; and he misrepresents or misinterprets history. A few references to his book will suffice to substantiate this criticism.
Thus, in the very first chapter of his work he says that in the first age of Christianity there was on the side of the church “an apparent effort to supplant philosophy” (p. 31); and to prove this he alleges that “the apostles had scarcely left the church when there sprang up, in the unlettered class from which the first Christians had been largely recruited, a weak jealousy of human learning, which, it was claimed, had been superseded in them by miraculous gifts of wisdom and knowledge.” This statement is 1218captious. From the fact that the first Christians, guided by the wisdom of the Gospel, had come to despise the absurd fables of pagan philosophy, it does not follow that they rejected human learning, but only that they had common sense enough to understand and to fulfil the duties of their religious position. On the other hand, to imagine that “the unlettered class” could have thought “of supplanting human learning” is as ridiculous as if we pretended that our carpenters and blacksmiths might conspire to supplant astronomy. The author adds that “Clement of Rome was held by his party to have enjoined abstinence from mental culture as one of the apostolic canons,” that “Barnabas and Polycarp were classed with St. Paul as authors of epistles which carry their own evidence of imposture,” and that “Hermas, as if in contempt of scholars, put his angelical rhapsodies in the mouth of a shepherd.” We scarcely believe that these three assertions will enhance the credit of Dr. Shields as a student of history. Clement was himself a theologian and a philosopher; “his party” is a clumsy invention; “apostolic canons” never condemned mental culture; St. Paul’s epistles bear no evidence whatever of imposture; and, as to Hermas, it is well known to the learned that he put his instructions in the mouth of a shepherd, not that he might show his “contempt of scholars”—for he himself was a scholar—but because his guardian angel, from whom he had received those instructions, had appeared before him in the garb of a shepherd.
The author says (p. 33) that in the age of the Greek Fathers “there was a false peace between theology and philosophy; and religion and 1219science, in consequence, became more or less corrupted by admixture with each other.” This statement is another historical blunder.
“The doctrines of St. John were sublimated into the abstractions of Plato.” This, too, is quite incorrect.
“The Son of God was identified as the divine Logos of the schools.” By no means. The Logos of the schools was only a shadow as compared with the Son of God; the Logos of the schools was an abstraction, whereas the Logos of the Fathers was a divine Person.
“Eusebius, Athanasius, Basil, the two Gregories, Chrysostom, and the two Cyrils did scarcely more than consecrate the spirit of the Academy in the cloisters and councils of the church.” This statement has no need of refutation. The works of all the Fathers here mentioned are extant, and they eloquently protest against the slander. But Protestant authors are anxious to show that the Catholic Church was corrupted from its very first age; and to do this they do not scruple to gather lies and misrepresentations from all accessible sources, to transform history into a witness to facts that never had an existence.
“Philosophy,” continues the author, “became not less corrupted through its forced alliance with the new theology.” Who ever heard of a new theology in the patristic age? or of a theology with which philosophy could not make an alliance, except by force, and without being corrupted?
“If philosophy gained somewhat on its metaphysical side by having its own notional entities traced up to revealed realities as the flower from the germ of reason, yet it lost quite as much on its physical side through a narrowing logic and exegesis 1220which bound it within the letter of the Scripture, and turned it away from all empirical research; and, consequently, even such crude natural science as it had inherited from the early Greeks was soon forgotten and buried under a mass of patristic traditions” (p. 34). From this we learn that logic, according to Dr. Shields, “narrows the physical side of philosophy,” and exegesis opposes “empirical research”! Is it not surprising that such assertions could find a place in a work which purports to be serious and philosophical? And as to the “crude natural science” of the early Greeks, which was a confused mass of conflicting guesses, does the author believe that it had a right to the name of science? or that it commanded the respect of theologians? or does he think that the Scripture has not a literal sense, which contains more truth than all the crude natural science of the early Greeks?
“In geology the speculations of Thales, Anaximenes, and Heraclitus, tracing the growth of the world from water, air, or fire, were only exchanged for the fanciful allegories and homilies of Origen, Basil, and Ambrose on the Hexaëmeron, or six days’ work of creation.” Dr. Shields has just complained that the Fathers bound science “within the letter of the Scripture”; and he now complains of Origen abandoning the literal for the allegorical sense! Such is his need of quarrelling with the Fathers. We may grant that some of Origen’s allegorical interpretations were rather “fanciful”; but since such interpretations were generally rejected even in his own time, it is difficult to understand how they could supersede the speculations of philosophers. As to St. Basil and St. Ambrose, however, 1221no one who has studied their works will dare to maintain that they have indulged in fanciful theories. Of course they were not professors of science but of Christianity; nor were they obliged to forsake Moses for Anaximenes or Heraclitus, whose theories were nothing but dreams. Geology, as a science, was yet unborn; and we are certain that, had the Fathers embraced the theories which they are denounced for ignoring, Dr. Shields or some of his friends would have considered the fact as equally worthy of censure. Such is the justice of certain critics.
“In astronomy the heliocentric views of Aristarchus and Pythagoras had already given place to the Ptolemaic theory of the heavens.” This does not prove that the Fathers have corrupted astronomy; it shows, on the contrary, that the false system of astronomy originated in what was then considered science. It is to false science, therefore, and not to false theology that we must trace the false explanation of astronomical phenomena.
“In geography, the corruption of natural knowledge with false Biblical views became even more remarkable, and the doctrine of the earth’s rotundity and antipodes which had been held by Plato and Aristotle, and all but proved by the Alexandrian geometers, was at length discarded as a fable not less monstrous than heretical.” We wonder how it could have been possible to prove “by geometry” the existence of men at the antipodes, and we still more wonder how could the doctrine of the earth’s rotundity, which is a Scriptural doctrine, be discarded as a monstrous and heretical fable by men familiar with the teachings of the Bible. But what is the fact? Did any of the Fathers suggest that 1222the words orbis terræ, which are to be found in many Scriptural texts, could be understood to mean anything but the earth’s rotundity? Or did any of them maintain that the earth’s rotundity was a “false Biblical view”? The author replies by quoting the Topographia Christiana of Cosmas Indicopleustes, who teaches that the earth is flat. But we answer that Cosmas was not a father of the church, and that his work has never been considered “a standard of Biblical geography,” as the author assumes. The theory of this monk was not the result of “theological” learning, as Dr. Shields imagines, but the offspring of Nestorian ignorance and presumption. Nor does it matter that Cosmas cites “patriarchs, prophets, and apostles in its defence as doctrine concerning which it was not lawful for a Christian to doubt” (p. 35); for we know, on the one hand, that there is no monstrosity which heretics are not apt to defend obstinately with Scriptural texts, and on the other that the theory of the Indicopleustes made no fortune in the Christian world; which further shows that the theological mind was not “inwrought” with any such fancies as the author pretends to have swayed the doctors of the Catholic Church. We know, of course, that our old doctors did not admit that the antipodes were inhabited by men; but this scarcely deserves criticism, as it is plain that before the discovery of the new world no serious man could take the responsibility of affirming a fact of which there was not a spark of evidence.
The author adds: “At the same time all the issuing interests of this paganized Christianity could not but share in its hybrid character. Its piety became but a mixture of 1223austerity and license.” He then says that the Christian ritual “was a mere medley of incongruous usages”; that “the sign of the cross became a common charm as well as a sacred rite”; that Pachomius organized monasteries and nunneries as sanctuaries of virtue “amid a social corruption too gross to be described”; that “Christian and pagan factions contended for supremacy in the Roman senate”; that “the Lord’s day was observed by imperial edict on a day devoted to the god of the sun,” etc., etc.; and he winds up his survey of the patristic age by the remark that “the patristic type of Christian science has been likened to a twilight dream of thought before the long night-watches of the middle ages” (p. 35, 36).
It would be useless to ask Dr. Shields how he has ascertained that Christianity was “paganized,” and that the sign of the cross had become a “charm”; he would tell us simply that these gems of erudition have been culled by him from Protestant or infidel books. As to the “mixture of austerity and license” nothing need be said, for the contradiction is glaring. That the social corruption was “too gross to be described” is not astonishing, as the world was still more than half pagan; but to connect social corruption with the monasteries and nunneries organized by St. Pachomius, in order to denounce them as a mixture of austerity and license, is a proof not only of bad taste, but of bad will and of want of judgment. The author forgets to tell us why the Christian ritual should be called “a mere medley of incongruous usages”; and yet, as our present ritual does not substantially differ from that of the patristic age, it would have been 1224easy to point out a few of such usages, were it not that their incongruity is only a crotchet of Protestant bigotism. That the Lord’s day was observed “by imperial edict” may indeed seem scandalous to free-thinkers and free-religionists, but not to Protestant doctors; for they must know that in Protestant countries the Lord’s day is still observed by a law which has the same power as an imperial edict. But Protestants are perhaps scandalized at the Lord’s day being kept on the “day devoted to the god of the sun” instead of the Sabbath; and from this they argue that the Church of God has been utterly corrupted and paganized. If so, then they should either prove that the Lord’s day, the day of Christ’s resurrection, was the Sabbath, or denounce Jesus Christ himself for doing on the day “devoted to the god of the sun” what he ought to have done on the Sabbath. O the Pharisees! We cannot wonder if they despise the “patristic type of Christian science” as a dream when we see how shamelessly they strive to misrepresent the most glorious ages of Christianity, and to turn truth itself into poison.
The few quotations we have here made, and the remarks we have appended to them, are far from giving an adequate idea of the partisan spirit and unreliable statements with which Dr. Shields has filled the first part of his book. What we have given is only a small sample of the rest, and was extracted from three pages. Were we to extend our criticism to only ten pages more, we would find matter enough for a volume. Our author, as nearly all Protestant authors, characterizes the scholastic age as one of philosophic bondage. Theology1225subjugates philosophy: “The church is the only school; orthodoxy the one test of all truth; the traditions of the Fathers the sole pabulum of the intellect; and the system of Aristotle a mere frame-work to the creed of Augustine.” Peter Lombard “narrowed the circle of free thought by putting the authority of the church above that of Scripture”; Alexander of Hales “rendered the thraldom of the intellect complete by systematizing the patristic traditions or sentences with Aristotelian logic.” Alas! we know only too well that Protestantism detests logic as much as the patristic traditions. But, then, why should a Protestant D.D. undertake to harmonize philosophy and theology? Is there any philosophy without logic, or any theology without patristic traditions?
Thomas Aquinas “dazzled all Europe”; but Duns Scotus “proceeded to evaporate the distinction of Aquinas in a jargon which defies modern comprehension.” This does little credit to modern comprehension; for the jargon of Scotus is nothing but the Latin tongue adapted to philosophical use. “Philosophy,” at this time, “could only succumb to theology.” “In logic any deflection in mere form as well as matter was enough to draw down the anathemas of the church.” Roscellin “was arraigned as a tritheist,” William of Champeaux “was pursued as a pantheist,” Abelard “was forced to cast his own works into the fire, and condemned to obscurity and silence.” It is evident that these facts, and others of a similar nature, must fill with horror our liberal Protestants and all free-religionists, just as prison and capital punishment fill with horror a convicted criminal. But if Dr. Shields condescends to examine 1226the doctrines of Roscellin, William of Champeaux, and Abelard in the light of Scripture, as they are faithfully portrayed in reliable works (such as St. Thomas’ life by Rev. Bede Vaughan, for example), he will see that all three were guilty of heresy, and that they richly deserved the treatment to which they were subjected. We cannot, of course, enter here into a discussion of such doctrines; we merely state that they have been fully examined and debated in the presence of the interested parties with all the calm, patience, and impartiality which characterize the proceedings of the Catholic Church.
As to the singular notion entertained by Dr. Shields, that philosophy “could only succumb to theology,” we wish to tell him that no man can be a theologian unless he be also a philosopher; whence it follows that philosophy and theology are naturally friendly to one another, and, if they ever happen to disagree, they do not fight like enemies, but they state their reasons like good sisters equally anxious to secure each other’s support. Philosophy is like a clear but naked eye; theology is the same eye, not naked, but armed with a powerful telescope. Will Dr. Shields maintain that the eye succumbs when it sees by the telescope what the naked eye cannot discover? Yet this is the idea latent in his notion of philosophy succumbing to theology. What succumbs to theology is not philosophy, but error masked in the garb of philosophy. The author himself tells us that “reason and revelation are complemental factors of knowledge, the former discovering what the latter has not revealed, and the latter revealing what the former cannot discover.” This is exactly 1227what we were saying; for the science of reason is philosophy, and the science of revelation is theology.
We would never end, if we were to follow our author through the five hundred and eighty-eight pages of his book. We only add that the theological and philosophical erudition which he parades throughout the whole work has been derived from the same baneful sources from which Dr. Draper collected the materials of his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, and deserves the same heavy censure. The late Dr. O. A. Brownson, when Dr. Draper’s work was published, said of it: “The only thing in Dr. Draper’s book that we are disposed to tolerate is his style, which is free, flowing, natural, simple, unaffected, and popular. Aside from its style, the book cannot be too severely censured. It is a tissue of lies from beginning to end. It is crude, superficial, and anything but what it professes to be. It professes to be a history of the conflict between religion and science. It is no such thing. It is a vulgar attack on Christianity and the Christian church, in which is condensed the substance of all that has been said by anti-Christian writers from the first century to the nineteenth.” We do not say that Dr. Shields’ intention has been to attack Christianity in general as Dr. Draper did; he, on the contrary, professes to labor for a reconciliation of Christianity and reason. But, good as the intention is, the book will do as much harm as that of Dr. Draper. Its style is as good, to say the least, as Dr. Draper’s, and its subject-matter is well distributed and orderly developed; but these and other good qualities, instead of redeeming its numerous misrepresentations of truth, make 1228them more dangerous by adding to them a charm against which the average reader can ill defend himself. Besides, Dr. Draper’s work, owing to its shameless infidelity, disgusts the Christian reader and makes him unwilling to swallow the poison it contains; whereas Dr. Shields’ book has such an attractive title, professes such a reverence for Scripture, and displays such an earnestness and ingenuity in the holy task of reconciling religion with science, that the unsophisticated reader (the Protestant reader in particular) will follow him, not only with great pleasure, but also with great docility and deference, till he persuades himself that religion is now in such a state that it needs to be purified by philosophy, and that reason must be made the umpirebetween revealed and scientific dogmas. The consequence is that the author’s “final philosophy” will serve the interests of rationalism rather than of religion. The more so as the author shows himself well acquainted with the errors of modern thought, some of which he exposes and refutes in a truly philosophical spirit, and with a talent and ability of which we see few instances in modern thinkers. We have been particularly struck by his powerful handling of positivism and absolutism, not to mention many other topics which he has treated in a very fair and intelligent manner. Had he not taken his stand on the shifting ground of Protestant opinions, he might have achieved a very meritorious task. He speaks of catholic views, catholic philosophy, and catholic spirit as something indispensable to carry on the much-desired conciliation of natural with supernatural knowledge. But what can the word “catholic” mean on the lips of one who does not listen 1229to the Catholic doctors, and who is a stranger to the Catholic Church? His “catholic” spirit cannot but be a spirit of compromise, and a kind of rationalistic eclecticism, ready to accept only so much of revelation as men will condescend to authorize on a verdict of their fallible reason, and no less ready to sacrifice and ignore as much of it as human reason cannot explain or harmonize with natural science. It is evident that such a spirit can lead to nothing but religious scepticism. And this should convince even Dr. Shields that his “final philosophy” will never achieve a success. The Catholic thinker, if he had to compose a final philosophy, would place himself on much higher and much securer ground; he would first range in a series all the truths which the Catholic Church has defined to be of faith; he would then range in another series all the demonstrated truths of the natural sciences, and all the principles, axioms, and propositions of philosophy which are generally received by the different schools; he would next inquire whether any proposition of this second series clashes with any of the truths contained in the first series; and, as he would be unable to find any truth of science or of philosophy conflicting with any revealed truth, he would conclude that the world is not just now in need of a final philosophy for settling a conflict which has no existence except in the imaginative brains of scientific charlatans. Dr. Shields may think that this course is not calculated to secure the alliance of religion and science; but let him read the magnificent article published by Dr. Brownson in his Quarterly Review (April, 1875), on Dr. Draper’s pretended history of the conflict between 1230religion and science, and he will see his mistake.
The “final philosophy,” as we have already remarked, will be of no use to the Catholic world. Protestants may, perhaps, relish it all the more. But no class of men will, in our opinion, be more gratified with it than the sceptics, the free-thinkers, and the enemies of supernatural truth; for they will not fail to see that to set up philosophy as “umpire” between religion and science is to make men distrust the doctrines of religion, and to prepare, though with the best intentions, the triumph of religious scepticism.