VIII. Indications of the Atonement.

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


  THE Church was the result of three causes, the Asiatic conquests, of the Romans, the Alexandrian school of Philosophy, and the Christian movement of the people.

  By the Asiatic conquests of the Romans, Spiritualism and Materialism were brought together upon the same theatre, and placed in the condition necessary to their union. Eastern and Western ideas were mingled in strange confusion throughout the whole of the Roman Empire during the first three centuries of our era, and the attempt to unite them, to combine them into a regular and harmonious system could hardly fail to be made.

  This attempt was made by the Alexandrian Philosophers. These Philosophers called themselves eclectics. Their avowed object was to unite the East and the West, European and Asiatic ideas, to reduce to a regular system the ideas of all the various schools of philosophy. They did it as perfectly as they could with the lights they had and the experiments they had made.

  The Christian movement of the people was apparently very unlike that of the Alexandrian. The early Christians were the farthest in the world from being philosophers. They were inspired. They were moved by an impulse of which they asked, and could have given no account. God moved iq them, and spoke through them; gave them a lofty enthusiasm, a resistless energy of character, and prepared them to do, to dare and to suffer any thing and every thing. At his command they went forth to conquer the world, and they did conquer it; not, as it has been well remarked, by killing, but by dying.*

  We understand to-day what it was that moved the early Christians. What was inspiration in them is philosophy in us. They had an instinctive sense of the synthesis of Spirit and Matter. Yet they thought nothing of Spirit and Matter. They disturbed themselves not in the least with Spiritual­ ism and Materialism, with the East and the West, with Europe and Asia. They saw mankind sunk in sin and misery, weary and heavy laden, and they went forth strong in the Lord to raise them to virtue, to convert them to Christ and to give them rest. They did not speculate, they did not reason­—they saw and felt and acted.

  These and the Alexandrians met, and the Church was the result. The share of the Alexandrians in the construction of the Church has always been acknowledged to be very great. Perhaps it was greater than any have suspected. Certain it is that they furnished the Fathers their philosophy, and they may be pronounced without much hesitation, the real elaborators—not of Christianity, but of the dogmas of the Church.

  All men feel more or less the desire to account to themselves for what they are. For a time they may be carried away by a force not their own, and they may be so engrossed with varied and exciting action and events, that they have no time to think; but at the first moments of calmness and self-consciousness they will ask what has moved them, What was the power which carried them away and whither have they been borne. This was the case with the early Christians. The first excitement over, and the visits of inspiration having become less frequent, they desired to explain themselves to themselves, to give a name to the instincts they had obeyed, to the Divinity which had moved them, and to the destiny they had been fulfilling. The Alexandrians answered all their questions. They explained the Christians to themselves, and henceforth their explanations were counted Christianity.

  These three causes of the old Church, or analogous ones, reappear to-day for the first time since that Epoch; and is not their reappearance an indication that a new Church is about to be built?

  The East and the West are again on the same theatre. The British by means of their East India Company have reconquered the father-land of Spiritualism, and brought up from the graves of ages its old Literature and Philosophy, and mingled them with those of the West, the father-land of Materialism. The Church itself has introduced not a little Spiritualism into Christian civilisation, while Protestantism by encouraging the study of the classics has reproduced Greece and Rome. The two worlds, the two civilisations, the two systems to be atoned or united are now in very nearly the same relative condition as they were at the birth of the Church. They are thrown together into the crucible.

  Alexandria, too, is reproduced with the modifications and improvements which two thousand years could not fail to effect. Eclecticism is declared to be the philosophy of the nineteenth century. Not one of the exclusive systems, which obtained during the last century, has now any life.

  Materialism is a tradition even in France; Idealism has exhausted itself in Germany, and England has no philosophy.

  Schelling had at least a presentiment of Eclecticism in his doctrine of Identity; Hegel has greatly abridged the labors of its friends; Fries and his disciples observe its method, and Jacobi virtually embraced it. In our own country it has produced no great work, and perhaps will not; but it is avowed by many of the best minds among us, and is the only philosophy we have, that has not ceased to make proselytes.

  In France, however, Eclecticism has received its fullest developments. M. Cousin has all but perfected it. He has presented us the last results of the philosophical labors of his predecessors and con­temporaries, and furnished us with a method by which we may construct a philosophy which may truly be called the Science of the Absolute, a philosophy which need not fear the mutations of time and space, and may be sure that its sovereignty will be complete and undisputed as fast and as far as it comes to be understood.

  M. Cousin has not only given us, as it were, a geometrical demonstration of the existence of Nature and of God, but he has also demonstrated that Humanity, Nature and God have precisely the same laws, that what we find in Nature and Humanity we may also find in God, and that when we have once risen to God, we may come back and find again in Nature and Humanity all that we had found in him. This at once destroys all antithesis between Spirit and Matter, between God and man, gives man a kindred nature with God, makes him an image or manifestation of God, and paves the way for universal reconciliation and peace. If God be holy, man, inasmuch as he has the very elements of the Divinity, is also holy. God and man may then unite in an everlasting and holy union, Justice and Mercy kiss each other, and—all antagonism is destroyed.

  The third cause, the inspiration of the people, is no less remarkable now than it was in the first centuries of our era. When God would produce a great result, one which requires the cooperation of vast multitudes, he does not merely inspire one man; he does not speak plainly in distinct propositions to a few, and leave them to speak to the many; but he gives an impulse to the masses, and carries away all the world in the direction of the object to be gained. People seem to themselves to be acting from their own impulses, and to be obeying their own convictions; but they are borne along by an invisible and resistless power towards an end of which they have a vague presentiment, but no distinct vision.

  This is the case now. The time has come for a new Church, for a new synthesis of the elements of the life of Humanity. The end to be attained is Union. How would an inspiration designed to give the energy, the power to attain this end be most likely to manifest itself; in what way could it manifest itself but by giving the people an irresistible longing for union, and a tendency to unite, to associate on all occasions and for all purposes not inconsistent with union itself? And what is the most striking characteristic of this age? Is it not the tendency to association, a tendency so strong that it appears to the cool spectator like a monomania?

  This tendency shows itself every where. All over Christ1mdom, men seem mad for associations. They associate for almost every thing, to promote science, literature, art and industry, to circulate the Bible, to distribute religious tracts, to diffuse useful knowledge, to improve and extend education, to meliorate governments and laws, to soften the rigors of the prison-house, to aid the sick, to relieve the poor, to prevent pauperism, to free the slave, to send out missionaries, and to evangelize the world. And—what deserves to be remarked—all these associations, various as they are, really propose in every instance a great and glorious end. They all are formed for useful, moral, religious, philosophical, philanthropical or humane purposes. They may be badly managed, they may fail in accomplishing what they propose, but that which they propose deserves to be accomplished. Sectarians may control them; but in all cases their ends are broader than any sect, than all sects, and they alike commend themselves to the consciences and the prayers of mankind. In some of these associations, sects long and widely separated come together, and find to their mutual satisfaction that they have a common ground, and a ground which each one instinctively admits to be higher and holier than any merely sectarian ground.

  This tendency too is triumphing over all obstacles. Sects, which opposed this or that association because principally under the control of this or that sect, have slowly and reluctantly ceased their opposition, and have finally acquiesced. Individuals, who for a time resorted to ridicule and abuse to check associations, are now silent, and they stand amazed as did those who listened to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. Those who apprehended great evils from them now seek to withstand them only by counter associations. To resist them is in fact out of the question. One might as well resist the whirlwind. There is a more than human power at the bottom of them They come from God, from a divine inspiration given to the people to build the new Church and realize the Atonement, a universal and everlasting association.

  This tendency or inspiration will, in a few days, meet the Eclectic movement, if it have not already met it; and what shall prevent a result similar to that which followed the meeting of the early Christian inspiration and the Alexandrian Eclecticism? This inspiration is, indeed, at this moment, apparently blind, but it and Modern Philosophy tend to the same end. They have then the same truth at bottom. They must then have a natural affinity with one another. They will then come together. The philosophy will explain and enlighten the inspiration. They who are now mad for associations will comprehend the power which has moved them, they will see the end towards which they have been tending without their knowing it, and they will give to the philosopher in return zeal, energy, enthusiasm, and there will then be both the Light and the Force needed to construct the new Church.

  And I think I see some indications that this meeting of inspiration and philosophy is already taking place. Something like it has occurred in Germany, in that movement commenced by Herder, but best represented by Schleiermacher, a man remarkable for warmth of feeling, and coolness of thought, a preacher and a philosopher, a theologian and a man of science, a student and a man of business. It was attempted in France, where it gave birth to “Nouveau Christianisme,” but without much success, because it is not a new Christianity but a new Church that is required.

  But the plainest indications of it are at home. In this country more than in any other is the man of thought united in the same person with the man of action. The people here have a strong tendency to profound and philosophic thought, as well as to skilful, energetic and persevering action. The time is not far distant when our whole population will be philosophers, and all our philosophers will be practical men. This is written on almost every man’s brow in characters so plain that he who runs may read. This characteristic of our population fits us above all other nations to bring out and realize great and important ideas. Here too is the freedom which other nations want, and the faith in ideas which can be found nowhere else. Philosophers in other countries may think and construct important theories, but they can realize them only to a very limited extent. But here every idea may be at once put to a practical test, and if true it will be realized. We have the field, the liberty, the disposition and the faith to work with ideas. It is here then that must first be brought out and realized the true idea of the Atonement. We already seem to have a consciousness of this, and it is therefore that we are not and cannot be surprised to find the union of popular inspiration with profound philosophical thought manifesting itself more clearly here than any where else.

  The representative of this union here is a body of individuals rather than a single individual. The many with us are every thing, the individual almost nothing. One man, however, stands out from this body, a more perfect type of the synthesis of Eclecticism and inspiration than any one else. I need not name him. Philosophers consult him, and the people hear his voice and follow him. His connexion with a particular denomination may have exposed him to some unfriendly criticism, but he is in truth one of the most popular men of the age. His voice finds a response in the mind and in the heart of Humanity.

  His active career commenced with the new century, in the place where it should, and in the only place where it could,—in the place where a Republic had been born and Liberty had received her grandest developments and her surest safeguards. There he has continued, and there he has been foremost in laying the foundation of that new Church which will soon rise to greet the morning ray, and in which a glad voice will chant the hymn of peace to the evening sun. Few men are so remarkable for their union of deep religious feeling with sound reflection, of sobriety with popular enthusiasm. He reveres God and he reverences man. When he speaks he convinces and kindles.

  When Rationalism was attacked he appeared in its defence and proclaimed, in a language which still rings in our ears, the imprescriptible rights of the mind. After the first shock of the war upon Rationalism had been met, and a momentary truce tacitly declared, he brought out in an Ordination Sermon the great truth which destroys all antagonism and realizes the Atonement. In that Sermon—the most remarkable since the Sermon on the Mount—he distinctly recognises and triumphantly vindicates the God-Man. “In ourselves are the elements of the Divinity. God then does not sustain a figurative resemblance to man. It is the resemblance of a parent to a child, THE LIKENESS OF A KINDRED NATURE.” In this sublime declaration, the Son of God is owned. Humanity, after so many years of vain search for a Father, finds itself here openly proclaimed the true child of God.

  This declaration gives us the hidden sense of the symbol of the God-Man. By asserting the Divinity of Humanity, it teaches us that we should not view that symbol as the symbol of two natures in one person, but of kindred natures in two persons. The God-Man indicates not the antithesis of God and man; nor does it stand for a being alone of its kind; but it indicates the homogeneousness of the human and divine natures, and shows that they can dwell together in love and peace. The Son of Man and the Son of God are not two persons but one—a mystery which becomes clear the very moment that the human nature is discovered to have a sameness with the Divine.

* Benjamin Constant.
† See my Article on Cousin’s Philosophy in the Christian Examiner, for September, 1836. Also, Cousin’s Philosophical Works every where, especially the V. and VI. Lectures of his “Cours,” in 1828, and the Preface to the 2d Edition of his Fragmens philosophiquea.

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