VI. Mission of the Present.

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



  WE of the present century must either dispense with all religious instructions, reproduce Spiritualism or Materialism, or we must build a new Church, organize a new institution free from the imperfections of those which have been.

  The first is out of the question. Men cannot live in a perpetual anarchy. They must and will embody their ideas of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good—the Holy, in some institution. They must answer in some way the questions, What is the Holy? What is the true destination of Man?

  To reproduce Spiritualism or Materialism, were an anomaly in the development of Humanity. Humanity does not traverse an eternal circle; it advances; it does not come round to its starting­point, but goes onward in one endless career of progress towards the Infinite, the Perfect.

  Besides, it is impossible. Were it desirable, neither Spiritualism nor Materialism can to any considerable extent, or for any great length of time, become predominant. We cannot bring about that state of society which is the indispensable condition of the exclusive dominion of either.

  Spiritualism just now revives; its friends may anticipate a victory; but they will be disappointed. Spiritualism, as an exclusive system, reigns only when men have no faith in material interests; and in order to have no faith in material interests, we must virtually destroy them; we must have absolute despotism, a sacerdotal caste, or we must have another Decline and Fall like that of the Roman Empire, and a new irruption like that of the Goths, Vandals and Huns.

  None of these things are possible. There are no more Goths, Vandals, or Huns. The North of Europe is civilized. Northern and central Asia is in the process of civilization through the influence of Russia; England is mingling the arts and sciences of the West with the Spiritualism of India; France and the colony of Liberia secure Africa; the Aborigines of this continent will in a few years have vanished before the continued advance of the European races; merchants and missionaries will do the rest. No external forces can then ever be collected to destroy civilization and compel the human race to commence its work anew.

  Internally, modern civilization has nothing to fear. It contains no seeds of destruction. A real advance has been made. A vast fund of experience has been accumulated and is deposited in so many different languages, that we can hardly, con­ceive it possible that it should be wholly lost or greatly diminished. The Art of Printing, un­known to Greek and Roman civilization, multiplies books to such an extent, that it is perfectly idle to dream of any catastrophe, unless it be the destruction of the world itself, which will reduce them to a few precious fragments like those left us of classical antiquity.

  There is, too, a remarkable difference in the diffusion of knowledge. In the best days of classical antiquity, the number of the enlightened was but small. The masses were enveloped in thick darkness. Now the masses have been to school, and are going to school. The millions, who then were in darkness, now behold light springing up. The loss of one individual, however prominent he may be, is not felt. Another is immediately found to fill his place.

  Liberty exists also to a much greater extent. The rights of man are better comprehended and secured. The individual man is a greater be­ing than he was in Greece or Rome. He has a higher consciousness of his worth, and he is more respected, and his interests are felt to be more sacred.

  Labor has become more honorable. In Greece and Rome labor was menial; it was performed by slaves, at least by the ignorant and brutish. Slavery is disappearing. It has only a small corner of the civilized world left to it. As slavery disappears, as labor comes to be performed by freemen, it will rise to the rank of a liberal profession, and men of character and influence will be laborers.

  The improvements in the arts of production have become so extensive, and the means of creating and accumulating wealth are so distributed, and the amount of wealth has already become so great and is shared by so many, that it is impossible that there should ever come again a scene of general poverty and wretchedness to make men despair of the earth, and abandon themselves wholly to the dreams of a spirit-land. There must always remain something to hope from the material order, and consequently, whatever may be the influence of a sudden panic, or a momentary affright, always a cheek to the absolute dominion of Spiritualism.

  Nor can Materialism become sovereign again. It contains the elements of its own defeat. The very discipline, which Materialism demands to support itself, in the end neutralizes its dominion. As soon as men find themselves well off in a worldly point of view, they discover that they have wants which the world does not and cannot satisfy. The training demanded to ensure success in commerce, industrial enterprises, or politics, strengthens faculties which crave something superior to commerce, to mere industry, or to politics. The merchant would not be always estimating the hazards of speculation; he dreams of his retirement from business, his splendid mansion, his refined hospitality, a library, and studious ease; the mechanic looks forward to a time when he shall have leisure to care for something besides merely animal wants; and the politician to his release from the cares and perplexities of a public life, to a quiet retreat, to a dignified old age, spent in plans of benevolence, in aiding the cause of education, religion, or philosophy. This low business world, upon which the moralist and the divine look down with so much sorrow, is not quite so low after all, as they think it. It is doing a vast deal to develope the intellect. It is full of high and expanded brows.

  It is true that money getting, mere physical utility has at this moment a wide influence, and may absorb the mind and heart quite too much. Still the evil is not unmixed. That man, who tortures his brain, spends his days and nights to accumulate a fortune, is much superior to him who is content to rot in poverty, who has no courage, no energy to attempt to improve his condition. He is a better member of society, is worth more to humanity. It is a great day, even for spiritualism, when all the people of a country are carried away in an industrial direction. Speculation may be rife, frauds may be common; many may become rich by means they care not to make known; many may become discontented; there may be much striving this way and that, much effort to get up, keep up, to pull or to push down; but the many will sharpen their faculties, and gain the leisure and the means and the disposition to attend to the spiritual part of their being. It does my heart good to witness the industrial activity of my countrymen. I see very clearly the evils which attend it; but I also see every year the general level rising, and the moral and intellectual power increasing. So is it too with our political struggles. They quicken thought, give the people the use of language, a consciousness of their power, especially of the power of mind, and upon the whole they do much to elevate the general character. Those quiet times we look back upon and regret, either were not as quiet as we think them, or they were quiet because they had not enough of thought to move them. They were as still, but too often as putrid, as the stagnant pool.

  The science which is now introduced into commerce, into the mechanic arts and agricultural pursuits, and which is every day receiving a greater extension and new applications, while it preserves the material order, also keeps alive the spiritual, and gives us a check against the absolute ascendancy of Materialism.

  We cannot then go back either to exclusive Spiritualism, or to exclusive Materialism. Both these systems have received so full a development, have acquired so much strength, that neither can be subdued. Both have their foundation in our nature, and both will exist and exert their influence. Shall they exist as antagonist principles? Shall the spirit forever lust against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit? Is the bosom of Humanity to be eternally torn by these two contending factions? No. It cannot be. The war must end. Peace must be made.

  This discloses our Mission. We are to reconcile spirit and matter; that is, we must realize the atonement. Nothing else remains for us to do.—Stand still we cannot. To go back is equally impossible. We must go forward, but we can take not a step forward, but on the condition of uniting these two hitherto hostile principles. PROGRESS is our law and our first step is UNION.

  The union of Spirit and Matter was the result contemplated by the mission of Jesus. The Church attempted it, but only partially succeeded, and has therefore died. The time had not come for the complete union. Jesus saw this. He knew that the age in which he lived would not be able to realize his conception. He therefore spoke of his “second coming.” The Church has always had a vague presentiment of its own death, and the birth of a new era when Christ should really reign on earth. For a long time the hierophants have fixed upon ours as the epoch of the commencement of the new order of things. Some have gone even so far as to name this very year, 1836, as the beginning of what they call the Millennium.

  The particular shape which has been assigned to this new order, this “latter day glory,” the name by which it has been designated, amounts to nothing. That some have anticipated a personal appearance of Jesus, and a resurrection of the saints, should not induce us to treat with disrespect the almost unanimous belief of Christendom in a fuller manifestation of Christian truth, and in a more special reign of Christ in a future epoch of the world. All the presentiments of Humanity are to be respected. Humanity has a prophetic power. —”Coming events cast their shadows before.”

  The “second coming” of Christ will be when the Idea which he represents, that is, the Idea of atonement, shall be fully realized. That Idea will be realized by a combination, a union, of the two terms which have received thus far from the Church only a separate development. This union the Church has always had a presentiment of; it has looked forward to it, prayed for it; and we are still praying for it, for we still say, “Let thy kingdom come.” Nobody believes that the Gospel has completed its work. The Church universal and eternal is not yet erected. The corner stone is laid; the materials are prepared. Let then the workmen come forth with joy, and bid the Temple rise. Let them embody the true Idea of the God­ Man, and Christ will then have come a second time; he will have come in power and great glory, and he will reign, and the whole earth will be glad.

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