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THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
ENGLISH HISTORY FROM 1600 to 1700
Whatever else people remember about seventeenth-century England, they will pretty surely know the names of the sovereigns who came to the throne. In 1600 the reign of Queen Elizabeth was drawing to its close. After her came the pragmatic Scotchman, James I. After him came Charles I., whose tragic fate has combined with the charm of his portraits to make him at least a pathetically romantic hero. Then came Cromwell, quite as sovereign in his Aeeting Commonwealth as ever king was in monarchy. Then came Charles II., with all the license of the Restoration ; then James II., ousted in less than five years by the Glorious Revolution ; finally came the Dutch Prince of Orange with his English Queen, royal in England only by glorious revolutionary grace. Seven sovereigns in all we find, if we count William and Mary together; and of these only six were technically royal. Of the six royalties, four were Stuarts, who came in the middle of the list ; and the Stuart dynasty was broken midway by the apparition of Cromwell, the one English sovereign not of royal blood and dignity. Literally, then, Cromwell may be termed the central figure of English history / during the seventeenth century.
It is in the full literary spirit of that period to remark this fantastic fact as if it were significant, saying that just as
Cromwell stands central in the list of those who during the seventeenth century of our Christian era were sovereign in Protestant England, so in the eyes of them who seek among these a fitting centre for their thoughts and meditations he proves central too.
Love him or hate him, reverence or detest his memory, one fact you must grant: never before in English history had men seen dominant the type of which he is the great representative; never since his time have they again seen that dominant type, now irrevocably vanished with the world which brought it forth, — the type of the dominant Puritan.
The Puritan character, of course, is too permanently English to be confined to any single period of English history. Throughout English records we may find it, first gathering the force which led to its momentary sovereignty, and later, even to our own time, affecting the whole course of English life and thought. In the seventeenth century, however, Puritanism for a while acquired the unique importance of national dominance, which it proved politically unable to maintain beyond the lifetime of its chief exponent. A religious system, one generally thinks it; and rightly, for it was profoundly actuated by conscious religious motives, and by passionate devotion to that system of Christian theology which is known by the name of Calvin. A political movement, too, it often seems; and rightly, for never in the course of English history have native Englishmen so striven to alter the form and the course of constitutional development. In such a study as ours it has both aspects; the dominance of Puritanism may best be thought of as the period when for a little while the moral and religious ideals which underlie our language were uppermost, when for once the actuating impulse of authority was rather that the will of God should be done on earth than that any custom however fortified and confirmed by the experience formulated in the Common Law should for its own sake be maintained.
That the will of God should be done, on earth as it is in
Heaven, no good Englishman will ever deny. What the will of God is, on the other hand, when directly concerned with the matters of this world, even good Englishmen cannot always agree. Among the Puritans themselves there was plenty of dissension, but one thing seems fairly sure, — no good Puritan questioned the truth of Calvinism any more than good Catholics of to-day question the dogmas of an Ecumenical Council. To understand Puritanism, then, in England and in America alike, we must remind ourselves of what Calvinistic theology taught.
In the beginning, the Puritans held, God created man, responsible to Him, with perfect freedom of will. Adam, in the fall, exerted his will in opposition to the will of God; thereby Adam and all his posterity merited eternal punishment. As a mark of that punishment they lost the power of exerting their will in harmony with the will of God, without losing their hereditary responsibility to Him. But God, in His infinite mercy, was pleased to mitigate His justice. Through the mediation of Christ, certain human beings, chosen at God's pleasure, might be relieved of the just penalty of sin, and received into everlasting salvation. These were the elect; none others could be saved, nor could any acts of the elect impair their salvation. Now, there were no outward and visible marks by which the elect might be known; there was a fair chance that any human being to whom the gospel was brought might be of the number. The thing which most vitally concerned every man, then, was to discover whether he were elect, and so free from the just penalty of sin, ancestral and personal. The test of election was ability to exert the will in true harmony with the will of God, - a proof of emancipation from the hereditary curse of the children of Adam ; whoever could do right, and wish to, had a fair ground for hope that he should be saved. Bui even the elect were infected with the hereditary sin or humanity; and, besides, no wile of the Devil was more frequent than that which deceived men into believing them. selves regenerate when in truth they were not. The task of assuring one's self of election could end only with life, a life of passionate aspirations, ecstatic enthusiasms, profound discouragements. Above all, men must never forget that the true will of God was revealed, directly or by implication, only and wholly in Scripture; incessant study of Scripture was the sole means by which any man could assure himself that his will was really exerting itself, through the mediatory power of Christ, in true harmony with the will of God.
Calvinism this creed is commonly called, in memory of the French reformer, who in modern times has been its chief exponent; but those learned in theology tell us that perhaps we might better call it the system of Saint Augustine. Augustine and Calvin alike are remembered chiefly, perhaps wholly, as theologians; and in this age, whose most characteristic energies are devoted to researches which may be confirmed by observation or experiment, theology generally seems intangibly remote from workaday life. Yet, strangely enough, the conceptions which underlie the most popular scientific philosophy of our own time have much in common with those which actuated both Augustine and Calvin. Earthly life, the mod- . ern evolutionists hold, consists in a struggle for existence wherein only the fittest can survive ; for every organism which persists, myriads must irretrievably perish. In the days when Calvin pondered on the eternities, and still more in those tragic days of toppling empire when Augustine strove to imprison divine truth within the limits of earthly language, science was still to come. But what Augustine and Calvin saw, in the human affairs whence each alike inferred the systems of Heaven and Hell, was really what the modern evolutionists perceive in every aspect of Nature. Total depravity is only a theological name for that phase of life which in less imaginative times we name the struggle for existence; and likewise election is only a theological name for what our