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for your magazine; but, before sending the translation, allow me to give you a short history of German Rationalism, which Novalis sketches with such a masterly hand; and, at the same time, to make a few remarks on the great moral reaction that, within the last twenty years, has taken place in favour of Catholic doctrines and practices. Never in the history of any nation,-never in the moral development of the human mind, have such dreadful and unheard-of effects been produced, than were to be discerned in Germany during the latter part of the last century. Whoever is but even slightly acquainted with its literature during that period, will readily agree with me in this assertion. The fact is undeniable. The Germans were then an irreligious nation; for numerous writers arose who endeavoured to evaporate all that was solid and substantial in religion,—who took away from beneath our feet all that was real and historical in the faith of centuries. In their ideas, the life of Christ was a mythus, allegory, or epos; his glorious miracles were represented to be old wives' tales.* They asserted, that in the New Testament are to be found only the opinions of Christ and
the 17th of March, 1797. This event almost overpowered the heart of Novalis ; and the death of his brother Erasmus, which happened about a month after Sophia's death, added additional pangs to his sorrow. “At this period,” says his illustrious biographer Tieck, “Novalis lived only for his grief... And hence, from this time, the sanctity of grief, deep inward love, and pious aspirations after death, pervaded his whole being and all its creations.” (Life, p. 14.)
After having spent some weeks in Thuringia, he resumed his literary occupations with more than ordinary zeal. About this time, he composed the romance of
Oftendingen,” and also several hymns to the Blessed Virgin, which are full of deep piety and reverence. But the most interesting and important of all his works is—“ Die Christenheit,” which was composed in 1799. If Novalis had written nothing else, this alone would have established his fame. The author lived only two years after, dying on the 25th of March 1801. Although he did not die a professed Catholic, yet it is evident, from his last beautiful production, what his senti
Had God spared his life, he would no doubt have soon embraced that religion, after which he yearned with such deep feelings of love and respect and admiration. (See the Life of Novalis, by L. Tieck, prefixed to “ Novalis Schriften.” Ed. Paris, 1840. And also a most interesting account of him in the “ Dublin Review," No. VI. October, 1837.)
* For a specimen of the arbitrary and blasphemous method by which Paulus, Rosenmüller, Schleiermacher, Ammon, &c. endeavoured to overturn the miracles of our blessed Saviour, see Henke's “ Neuls Mag.” VI. p. 310. Tittman's “Prag. Geschicht,” p. 208. Behn“ Ueber die Lehrart Jesu und seiner Apo Leipzig, 1791. Also “ The State of Protestantism in Germany,” by the Rev. J. Rose, B.D. Ed. London, 1829. p. 132 et seq.
his apostles, which were adapted to the age in which they lived, but which could not be eternal truths; that Christ himself had neither the design, nor the power, of teaching any system that was to endure; that when, however, he taught any truth, as he occasionally did, it was without being aware of its nature; that the apostles did not understand his religion; and that the whole doctrine of Christianity was borrowed from the Jewish philosophy.* Mamgeven boldly maintained that Christ himself erred; that his apostles spread his errors; and that, therefore, no one of their doctrines was to be received on their authority, but that the Scripture was to be examined according to each one's private judgment, and the principles of right reason, before it could be allowed to be divine or inspired.
Here, then, are a few of the wild extravagances into which almost a whole nation fell in the eighteenth century.t And how are these to be accounted for? How did they originate ? Let Novalis tell us:“ Luther in general treated Christianity in a most arbitrary manner, misunderstood its spirit, and introduced another religion—the holy all-availableness of the Bible ;'1 and hence, alas! another foreign and earthly science was mingled with religion-philology, whose destructive influence has been ever since too apparent." From man's private interpretation therefore of Scripture,--from his own individual reason, ---from the hypotheses and ideas of his own fancy,--sprung these wild systems of irreligion and infidelity. Writers arose who proclaimed throughout the length and breadth of the land, “ The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible:” this was but another name for every one's individual whim and presumption. At first, indeed, the Bible was carefully studied and perused, and thousands drew from its divine spring the living waters of life. But soon it was found to contain things hard to be understood. Commentaries were written to explain them; and all the learned languages of the east were employed to elucidate remote allusions, and to compare and methodize various readings. Editions of the Scriptures came out in rapid succession in German, Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac. Annotations, expositions, critical remarks, introductions, and recensions of manuscripts, appeared
* So Wegscheiger, Bertholdt, Ammon, Bahrdt, &c. asserted.
† I almost forgot to mention, that Schleiermacher maintained “ that the Bible changed its meaning every fifteen years !" See Möhler's “Symbolik,” tom. 2, p. 80. French Ed. I believe Mr. J. B. Robertson still intends to translate this profound and interesting work.
† “ Die heilige Allgemeingultigheit der Bibel.”
before the public as if by magic, so that at last God's most sacred word seemed like the mummy of a dead body, filled with sweet spices, and containing the odour of life, but swathed round with bands of iron, and marked with curious cabalistic phrases of unspoken languages. Difficulties arose upon difficulties, and theories upon theories were invented, in order to explain them. As all authority in interpretation was discarded, every one became a church for himself: every one formed his own rule of faith, and accordingly each one advanced and supported his own opinion with all the authority of an inspired apostle. And now, as tradition was no longer the atmosphere in which men breathed, error could no longer be distinguished amidst the smoke and clouds, and meteors that arose. The silver chain was broken, and no one could find a spiritual atmosphere to live in, wider than the atmosphere of his own brain. Systems of theology were opposed to each other, and warriors of literary fame battled against their opponents, like a Roman mob, that estimated their glory by the numbers they had slain. All joined in the combat: all aided the great march of improvement. Theologians especially felt themselves called upon to come forward. They had a difficult part to play. However they chose the system of accommodation ! they exerted all their abilities to establish a reconciliation between Christ and Belial! Each party was to concede something, and meet the other half-way. Christ was to give up the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, Belial the most offensive vices. Both united, should acknowledge no fundamental law of religion but morality: in this all were agreed, the good morals must be taught, but as regarded the practice of them, that was a matter between every man and his own conscience ; for the philosopher was not to be too particular or curious about the moral qualities of individuals. This Christo-Belial system was still to be designated “ The Christian Doctrine of Religion"(Religions lehre); for they did not wish openly to affront the believers of revealed religion. Thus arose the neology of the Christian doctrines in Germany.*
After a time, many, wearied with so many systems and violent controversies which often destroyed all the holy feelings of charity, formed a new sect among themselves, distinguished by the name of Pietists. These pretended that Christianity consisted in virtue only, and not in subtlety of research or strength of argument: they sought to address themselves not to the head, but to the heart. An individual named
* See “ Die Werke von Jung Stilling,” vol. iv. “Das Heimweh.”
Spener was the founder of this school. The great point he laboured to establish was, that only a converted or regenerated theologian could attain a true knowledge of morality and divinity. In order to disseminate his opinions, private meetings were frequently held, and the Scripture was read and discussed on his principles. These meetings were known under the name of “Collegia Pietatis," and were soon extended to several universities, and other places, such as Essen, Augsburg, Schweinfurt, Giessen, &c. Spener was certainly correct in many of his views, and deserved great praise for his exertions to restore a better system of morality,“ but he forgot that a church militant on earth requires teachers who are able to defend it, as well as to teach its doctrines ; and that it is far more useful to possess the power of explaining the sense of Scripture, than to be scrupulous in using its bare words for the support of a dogmatical system." +
When the excitement with regard to Pietism had subsided, other systems and theories arose, still more wild and unfounded than the preceding one. The Socinians and Remonstrantsf first led the way. And here it is a melancholy and disgraceful fact to be mentioned, that not only these, but also the writings of many English Deists contributed not a little to hasten on the career of infidelity. Herbert, Blount, Shaftesbury, Collins, Tyndal, Toland, &c. soon became favourite authors. Other German writers improved upon their systems, and added more learning and depth and plausibility to their arguments. Thus Wolf and his followers endeavoured to establish the mystery of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Passion, &c., on purely philosophical, and strange as it may appear, on mathematical grounds! If they could not be established in this manner, they were to be rejected, since Scripture was considered to be, not the ground of religious truth, but a sort of witness which was compelled to assent to any conclusions at which their philosophy might chose to arrive. This system, however, soon fell into contempt: but it unfortunately prepared the way for many of the evils that followed. Certain opinions began to spread abroad, that Christianity was as yet only in a low and degraded state, and that it was capable of being perfected more and more; that only germs of truth were contained in Scripture, which it was the province of reason to bring to
* See Schröck“Kirchen-Geschichte seit der Reformation,” vol. viii. p. 20. Also Staüdlin's “Geschichte der Christl. Moral,” p. 343.
† Mr. Rose “ State of Protestantism in Germany,” p. 49. Ed. London, 1829. † So called from their endeavouring to unite all religions by remonstrating. § See Pusey's “ Historical Enquiry,” p. 124.
maturity. Here then Rationalism in reality first began its wicked ca
Basedow,* in many of his works, at once boldly attempted to reduce Christianity to a pure system of natural religion : in place of the doctrines of Christ, he endeavoured to set up a Christian Naturalism, if I may so express myself. Steinbart, who came next, proceeded precisely on the same principle, and in a more open manner he attempted to instil his peculiar doctrines.t No one opposed him, and this made him more bold, because he imagined that no one could answer him, and that therefore his system was correct.
But the most celebrated, and certainly the most daring character at this time, was an individual named Semler. I Though gifted by nature," says Mr. Rose," with a most powerful mind, with gigantic industry, and the most unquenchable appetite for literary research, yet these happy predispositions were, unfortunately, counteracted by the faults of his early education. He had never been taught to exchange rapidity and conjecture, for patience and accuracy. ... . Nothing can be more striking, than the way in which he occasionally combined the fruits of his various researches, except the carelessness with which these researches were made, and the sort of fatal blindness with which he neglected or rejected the most material elements of the whole he was attempting to form. In short, he never hesitated to desert sober and substantial truth, for striking but partial views-subtle error and ingenious theory.
. . As the historian of religious doctrines, it was his constant attempt to show, that a large part of them rested entirely on human authority."$ Such is the character given of this great rationalist, by one who was quite competent to form an accurate opinion of him. But I must not forget to mention some of his wild theories, the most remarkable of which was, that our Saviour adapted his doctrines to the feelings and dispositions of the people amongst whom he lived; but that these were by no means to be received by another and more enlightened period. Such was the origin of his favourite theory of accommodation, which was the foundation of all the other monstrous
* He was born at Hamburgh in 1724, and became Professor of Philosophy in the Gymnasium of Altona, and afterwards Director of Education at Dessau. He died at Magdeburgh in 1790. His principal work is entitled “Philalethie.” Altona, 1764.
† See his “System der reinen Philosophie.”
§ Ut supra, p. 74. I am sorry to see, that many of the opinions of Semler are maintained in several works that have been translated in the “ Biblical Cabinet.”