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ART. I. – A Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion.
By THEODORE PARKER. Boston: Little & Brown. 1842. 8vo. pp. 504.
In the analysis we gave, in our Review for last year, of the teaching of Transcendentalists, we reduced that teaching to three fundamental propositions, namely :- 1. Man is the measure of truth and goodness ; 2. Religion is a fact or principle of human nature ; 3. All religious institutions, which have been or are, have their principle and cause in human nature. We disposed of the first proposition in the number for July, 1845, and of the second in the number for the October following. There remains for us now to consider and dispose of only the third and last.
After what we established in our Review for last July, it is evident that Transcendentalism is virtually the ground on which the enemies of the Church, generally, are rallying and endeavouring to make a stand, and the ground on which they are to be met and vanquished. Protestantism, as set forth by the early Reformers, is virtually no more. It yielded to the well directed blows of Bossuet, and other Catholic divines, in the seventeenth century. But its spirit was not extinguished. It survived, and, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, reappeared in England under the form of infidelity, or the denial of all supernatural revelation from God to men; and, by the aid of Voltaire, Rousseau, and other French philosophes, soon passed into France and Germany, and, to no inconsiderable extent, penetrated even into Italy and Spain. Forced to abandon the form with which it had been clothed by Luther and Calvin, and their associates, it found it could subsist and maintain its influence only by falling back on natural religion, and finally, on VOL. III. NO. IV.
no religion. But this did not long avail it. The world protested against incredulity, and the human race would not consent to regard itself as a "child without a sire,” condemned to eternal orphanage. Either Protestantism must assume the semblance at least of religion, or yield up the race once more to Catholicity. But the latter alternative was more than could be expected of human pride and human weakness. The Reform party could not willingly forego all their dreams of human perfectibility, “the march of mind,” “ the progress of the species,” the realization of what they called “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” which they had emblazoned on their banners, and in the name of which they had established the Reign of Terror, and drenched Europe in her noblest and richest blood. To abandon these glorious dreams, these sublime hopes, to bow down their lofty heads before priests and monks, to sheathe the sword and embrace the cross, to give up the Age of Reason, and readmit the Age of Faith, was a sacrifice too great for poor human nature. Yet what other alternative was left ? demanded a religion, - would have some kind of faith and worship. To stand on open, avowed infidel ground was impossible. To return to the elder Protestantism was also impossible, for that had ceased to exist ; and if it had not, a return to it would have been only subjecting itself anew to the necessity of going farther, and reuniting with Rome, or of falling back once more on deism, and then on atheism. It must, then, either vanish in thin air, or invent some new form of error, which, in appearance at least, should be neither the Protestantism of the sixteenth century nor the unbelief of the eighteenth. The last hope of the party was in the invention of this new form. Germany, mother of the Reformation, saw the extremities to which it was reduced, and charged herself with conceiving and bringing it forth, as sin conceives and brings forth death. The period of gestation was brief; the child was forthwith ushered into the world. France applauded ; young America hurraed ; and even Old England pricked up her ears, and calculated the practical advantages she might derive from adopting the bantling.
The bantling is named Transcendentalism, and not inappropriately. The name defines the thing. The Reform party found itself compelled to avoid in appearance alike the younger infidelity and the older Protestantism, and both without any advance towards Catholicity. It must neither assert nor deny revelation, and yet must do both in the same breath ; it must
be a believer to the believer, an unbeliever to the unbeliever ; appear to the Christian to assert the supernatural order, to the infidel to admit only the natural order ; and thus reconcile all repugnances, harmonize all discords, and lay the firm and imperishable foundation of “union and progress.” The task was, no doubt, difficult and delicate ; but life or death was at stake ; and the Reform party showed itself equal to the emergency. It boldly faced the difficulty, and solved it, in general terms, by asserting that the soul is furnished with a Transcendental faculiy, or power which transcends the senses and intellect, and places us in immediate relation with the world of spirit, as the senses do with the world of matter. This faculty receives various names, but all agree in asserting its reality; some call it instinct, some spontaneity, some consciousness, some the divine in the human, and others reason, distinguishing, or attempting to distinguish, between reason and understanding. These last suppose understanding to be in the centre of the human subject ; on one side the five senses, through which the material world flows into it, and on the other, reason, through which flows in the spiritual world, or world of absolute and necessary truth. But, as all admit the reality of a faculty transcending the understanding and senses, however diversely named or defined, they are all denominated Transcendentalists, and their doctrine, Transcendentalism, — that is, a doctrine founded on that which transcends or surpasses sense and understanding.
According to Mr. Parker, this Transcendental faculty is a sort of pipe, or conduit, through which the Divinity fows naturally into the human soul. The soul has a double set of faculties, one set on each side. Each at the terminus is furnished with a valve, which the soul opens and shuts at will. If it opens one set, the external world flows in, and it lives a purely material or animal life ; if the other, the Divinity flows in, it becomes filled to its capacity with God, and lives a divine life. As the pipe or conduit through which the Divinity is let in is a natural endowment essential to the soul, and as we open or close its valve, and let in or shut out God at will, the “ supply of God” obtained is said to be obtained naturally, and as it is really God who runs in and fills the soul, the influx is said to be divine, or divine inspiration. As it is of God, and received through a natural inlet in a natural manner, it is natural inspiration, and distinguishable, on the one hand, from the mere light of nature, and on the other, from supernatural