I. Christianity.

From: New Views . . . (1836)
Author: O. A. Brownson
Published: James Munroe and Company 1836 Boston



  ABOUT two thousand years ago, Mankind, having exhausted all their old religious institutions, received from their heavenly Father through the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth a new institution which was equal to their advanced position, and capable of aiding and directing their future progress.

  But this institution must be spoken of as one which was, not as one which is. Notwithstanding the vast territories it acquired, the mighty influence it once exerted over the destinies of humanity, and its promises of immortality, it is now but the mere shadow of a sovereign, and its empire is falling in ruins. What remains of it is only the body after the spirit has left it. It is no longer animated by a living soul. The sentiment of the Holy has deserted it, and it is a by-word and a mockery.

  Either then Jesus did not embrace in his mind the whole of truth, or else the Church has at best only partially realized his conception.

  No institution, so long as it is in harmony with the progress of the understanding, can fail to command obedience or kindle enthusiasm. The Church now does neither. There is a wide disparity between it and the present state of intellectual development. We have discovered truths which it cannot claim as its own; we are conscious of instincts which it disavows, and which we cannot, or will not, suppress. Whose is the fault? Is it the fault of Humanity, of Jesus, or of the Church?

  Humanity cannot be blamed, for Humanity’s law is to grow; it has an inherent right to seek for truth, and it is under no obligation to shut its eyes to the facts which unfold themselves to its observation. It is not the fault of Jesus, unless it can be proved that all he contemplated has been realized, that mankind have risen to as pure, and u happy a state as he proposed; have indeed fully comprehended him, taken in his entire thought, and reduced it to practice. Nobody will pretend this. The fault then must be borne by the Church. The Church even in its best days was far below the conception of Jesus. It never comprehended him, and was always a very inadequate symbol of the Holy as he understood it.

  Christianity, as it existed in the mind of Jesus, was the type of the most perfect religious institution to which the human race will, probably, ever attain. It was the point where the sentiment and the institution, the idea and the symbol, the conception and its realization appear to meet and become one. But the contemporaries of Jesus were not equal to this profound thought. They could not comprehend the God-Man, the deep meaning of his assertion, “I and my Father are one.” He spake as never man spake—uttered truths for all nations, and for all times; but what he uttered was necessarily measured by the capacity of those who heard him—not by his own. The less never comprehends the greater. Their minds must have been equal to his in order to have been able to take in the full import of his words. They might—as they did—apprehend a great and glorious meaning in what he said; they might kindle at the truths he revealed to their understandings, and even glory in dying at the stake to defend them; but they would invariably and inevitably narrow them down to their own inferior intellects, and interpret them by their own previous modes of thinking and believing.

  The Disciples themselves, the familiar friends, the chosen Apostles of Jesus, notwithstanding all the advantages of personal intercourse and personal explanations, never fully apprehended him. They mistook him for the Jewish Messiah, and even after his resurrection and ascension, they supposed it to have been his mission to restore the kingdom to Israel.” Though commanded to preach the Gospel to “every creature,” they never once imagined that they were to preach it to any people but the Jewish, till the circumstances, which pre­ ceded and followed Peter’s visit to Cornelius the Roman Centurion, took place to correct their error. It was not till then that any one of them could say, “Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.” If this was true of the Disciples, how much more true must it have been of those who received the words of Jesus at second or third hand, and without any of the personal explanations or commentaries necessary to unfold their meaning?

  Could the age, in which Jesus appeared, have comprehended him, it would have been superior to him, and consequently have had no need of him. We do not seek an instructer for our children in one who is not able to teach them. Moreover, if that age could have even rightly apprehended Jesus, we should be obliged to say his mission was intended to be confined to that age, or else to admit that the human race was never to go beyond the point then attained. Either Jesus did not regard the Future of Humanity, or he designed to interrupt its progress, and strike it with the curse of immobility; or else he was above his age and of course not to be understood by it. The world has not stood still since his coming; the Church has always considered his kingdom as one of which there is to be no end; and we know that he was not comprehended, and that even we, with the advantage of nearly two thousand years of mental and moral progress, are far—very far—below him.

  If the age in which Jesus appeared could not comprehend him, it .is obvious that it could not fully embody him in its institutions. It could embody no more of him than it could receive, and as it could receive only a part of him, we must admit that the Church has never been more than partially Christian. Never has it been the real body of Christ. Never has it reflected the God­ Man perfectly. Never has it been a true mirror of the Holy. Always has the Holy in the sense of the Church been a very inferior thing to what it was in the mind and heart and life of Jesus.

  But we must use measured terms in our condemnation of the Church. We must not ask the man in the child. The Church did what it could. It did its best to “form Christ” within itself, “the hope of glory,” and was up to the period of its downfall as truly Christian, as the progress made by the human race admitted. It aided the growth of the human mind; enabled us to take in more truth than it had itself received; furnished us the light by which we discovered its defects; and by no means should its memory be cursed. Nobly and perseveringly did it discharge its duty; useful was it in its day and generation; and now that it has given up the ghost, we should pay it the rites of honorable burial, plant flowers over its resting place, and sometimes repair thither to bedew them with our tears.

  To comprehend Jesus, to seize the Holy as it was in him, and consequently the true idea of Christianity, we must, from the heights to which we have risen by aid of the Church, look back and down upon the age in which he came, ascertain what was the work which there was for him to perform, and from that obtain a key to what he proposed to accomplish.

  Two systems then disputed the Empire of the World; Spiritualism* represented by the Eastern world, the old world of Asia, and Materialism represented by Greece and Rome. Spiritualism regards purity or holiness as predicable of Spirit alone, and Matter as essentially impure, possessing and capable of receiving nothing of the Holy,—the prison house of the soul, its only hindrance to a union with God, or absorption into his essence, the cause of all uncleanness, sin, and evil, consequently to be contemned, degraded, and as far as possible annihilated. Materialism takes the other extreme, does not recognise the claims of Spirit, disregards the soul, counts the body everything, earth all, heaven nothing, and condenses itself into the advice, “Eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.”

  This opposition between Spiritualism and Materialism presupposes a necessary and original antithesis between Spirit and Matter. When Spirit and Matter are given as antagonist principles, we are obliged to admit antagonism between all the terms into which they are respectively convertible. From Spirit is deduced by natural generation, God, the Priesthood, Faith, Heaven, Eternity; from Matter, Man, the State, Reason, the Earth, and Time; consequently to place Spirit and Matter in opposition, is to make an antithesis between God and Man, the Priesthood and the State, Faith and Reason, Heaven and Earth, and Time and Eternity.

  This antithesis generates perpetual and universal war. It is necessary then to remove it and harmonize, or unite the two terms. Now, if we conceive Jesus as standing between Spirit and Matter, the representative of both-God-Man—the point where both meet and lose their antithesis, laying a hand on each and saying, “Be one, as I and my Father are one,” thus sanctifying both and marrying them in a mystic and holy union, we shall have his secret thought and the true Idea of Christianity.

  The Scriptures uniformly present Jesus to us as a mediator, the .middle term between two extremes, and they call his work a mediation, a reconciliation—an atonement. The Church has ever considered Jesus as making an atonement. It has held on to the term at all times as with the grasp of death. The first charge it has labored to fix upon heretics has been that of rejecting the Atonement, and the one all dissenters from the predominant doctrines of the day, have been most solicitous to repel is that of “denying the Lord who bought us.” The whole Christian world, from the days of the Apostles up to the moment in which I write, have identified Christianity with the Atonement, and felt that in admitting the Atonement they admitted Christ, and that in denying it they were rejecting him.

  Jesus himself always spoke of his doctrine, the grand Idea which lay at the bottom of all his teaching, under the term “Love.” “A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another.” “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John, who seems to have caught more of the peculiar spirit of Jesus than any of the Disciples, sees nothing but love in the Gospel. Love penetrated his soul; it runs through all his writings, and tradition relates that it at length so completely absorbed him that all he could say in his public addresses was, “Little children, love one another.” He uniformly dwells with unutterable delight on the love which the Father has for us and that which we may have for him, the intimate anion of man with God, expressed by the strong language of welling in God and God dwelling in us. In his view there is no antagonism. All antithesis is destroyed. Love sheds its hallowed and hallowing light over both God and Man, over Spirit and Matter, binding all beings and all Being in one strict and everlasting union.

  The nature of love is to destroy all antagonism. It brings together; it begetteth union, and from union cometh peace. And what word so accurately expresses to the consciousness of Christendom, the intended result of the mission of Jesus, as that word peace? Every man who has read the New Testament feels that it was peace that Jesus came to effect,—peace after which the soul has so often sighed and yearned in vain, and a peace not merely between two or three individuals for a day, but a universal and eternal peace between all conflicting elements, between God and man, between the soul and body, between this world and another, between the duties of time and the duties of eternity. How clearly is this expressed in that sublime chorus of the angels, sung over the manger-cradle— “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good-will to men!”

  Where there is but one term there is no union. There is no harmony with but one note. It is mockery to talk to us of peace where one of the two belligerent parties is annihilated. That were the peace of the grave. Jesus must then save both parties. The Church has, therefore, with a truth it has never comprehended, called him God-MAN. But if the two terms and their products be origin­ ally and essentially antagonist; if there be between them an innate hostility, their union, their reconciliation cannot be effected. Therefore in proposing the union, in attempting the Atonement, Christianity declares as its great doctrine that there is no essential, no original antithesis between God and man; that neither Spirit nor Matter is unholy in its nature; that all things, Spirit, Matter, God, Man, Soul, Body, Heaven, Earth, Time, Eternity, with all their duties and interests, are in themselves holy. All things proceed from the same Holy Fountain, and no fountain sendeth forth both sweet waters and bitter. It therefore writes “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” upon every thing, and sums up its sublime teaching in that grand synthesis, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind and soul and strength, and thy neighbour as thyself.”

* I use these terms, Spiritualism and Materialism, to designate two social, rather than two philosophical systems. They designate two orders, which, from time out of mind, have been called spiritual and temporal or carnal, holy and profane, heavenly and worldly, &c.

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