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usage to settle the meaning of words is the same as appealing to it to settle faith itself. You and I agree in rejecting all traditionary authority, and in asserting the unrestricted right of private judgment. Then there can be, for us, no authority for settling the meaning of terms but private judgment, any more than for settling articles of faith.”
“ But were we to admit this, every thing would be unsettled; no two men could talk intelligibly together for a single moment ; there would be no standard, no test, for any thing. All reasoning would be at an end ; for no one could convince or refute
; another, since one might be using the same word in one sense, and the other in a totally different sense. All science, morality, jurisprudence would be out of the question, and even social intercourse would cease, and man become solitary, for want of a medium of communication with his brother.”
“ Perhaps so: but this is a consequence which you must accept as well as I, unless you choose to abandon the right of private judgment. Private judgment means something or nothing. If it means nothing, let us talk no more about it.
If it means something, if it means any thing, it means that the individual is his own judge of truth in all cases whatsoever. If you assert it in face of the Church, you must assert it also in face of the State, of moral codes, and even of science. It is the assertion of the supremacy of man, and the annihilation of all conventionalisms. If you recoil from this conclusion, blush to call yourselves liberal Christians, confess and abjure your heresies, and return forthwith to Mother Church. For my part, I plant myself on the indefeasible right of each man to judge for himself, and to follow his own private convictions of truth and duty, lead they were they may.”
Nobody wishes to prevent you from following your own convictions of truth and duty; nor do we deny that you may be a Christian. We do not refuse to fellowship you as a Christian, but simply as a Christian teacher; not because you may not in your heart believe Christianity, but because what you teach is not Christianity.”
“ So you say, but not so say I; and I have the same right to say what I teach is Christianity, that you have to say what you teach is Christianity.”
“ No man who denies the supernatural mission of Jesus can be a Christian teacher; and you do deny it."
“ A doctrinal test again ! Do you or do you not discard all doctrinal tests? If not, humbly apologize for all that you have VOL. II. NO. II.
been saying these last thirty years. If you do, you can do more insist on a doctrinal test in the case of the teacher than of the private Christian. Moreover, if you insist on a doctrinal test, 'I demand your authority to impose one. You are but men; your authority is only human authority, and you with one voice deny the right of any human authority to dictate in matters of faith. If you can impose one test, you may another ; one article, you may two, and thus, if you choose, the whole Thirty-nine Articles, or all the decrees of the Council of Trent."
“ We have heard all this said time and again; but we want no authority for saying, that a man who in express terms denies a horse to be a horse does deny a horse to be a horse. The thing is evident of itself. The supernatural mission of Jesus is Christianity, the very thing to be admitted, if you admit it at all.”
“So you may think ; but suppose I think differently, who is to decide between us, pronounce you right and me wrong? But you have no right to say what you do; for you and the fathers and doctors of the seci have always maintained the codtrary, — that Christianity is not belief of this or that, but life, character."
" Yet these doctors and fathers have all believed in and taught the supernatural mission of Jesus.”
“ But they never insist on this belief as essential to one's Christianity. And what if they do? Who gave them authority to impose a creed, whether longer or shorter, - to forge chains for the free-born mind ? Am not I also a man? Stand I not on as high a platform of individual independence as they? Then, if you appeal to fathers and doctors, remember there are older fathers and doctors than these Unitarians, whose authority is as much against you as against me. If there must be an appeal to fathers and doctors, let us have the elder and more venerable, not the younger and less weighty.”
" But it is evident from the Sacred Scriptures, and all the sources from whence information can be collected concerning the subject, that a denial of the supernatural mission of Jesus is a denial of Christianity itself.”
“So you say; but is your assertion authority? You make the assertion only on the authority of your interpretation of the Bible and other historical documents; and have not I as much right to interpret these as you have ?"
“ Yes, but you are bound in morals to interpret them honestly, according to their plain, obvious sense.”
" Who is to decide between us, whether yours or mine are the honest interpretations ?"
“ If a man, having a tolerable pair of eyes and ordinary human faculties, looking at the sun through an unclouded atmosphere, should maintain that it is square or triangular, we should want no authority to call him dishonest, any more than we should any other manifest liar. Some things are so plain, that no man can deny them without prejudice to his sanity or his honesty. The fact that the supernatural mission of Jesus is essential to Christianity is one of these.”
“ So you say; but, if so, all Unitarian preaching has thus far been false; for its burden has been, life, not belief, is essential; be good and do good, and God will never ask you what you have believed." " You misinterpret us.
Unitarians are Christians, Christian believers, and have never taught, or intended to teach, that belief in Christianity is not essential to one's Christian character. They have insisted that all should believe Christianity; but not that it was necessary that any one should believe this or that particular explication of it.”
“ Eliminate all the particular explications, or expositions, of Christianity, and what will you have left ? "
" And Christianity in general, meaning nothing in particular! Just as if a man could even form a conception of Christianity in general, save through conception of it in particular! We learn the general in the particular. Abstract from matter all its properties, and what will be your conception of what re
“We have no disposition to follow you in a metaphysical discussion, for which you yourself have no remarkable aptitude. What we mean to say is, that there are certain bounds, beyond which one cannot pass and remain within the pale of Christianity. Within these bounds we recognize the unrestricted right of private interpretation, but not beyond.”
“ This, in principle, is all the Catholic Church herself says. She merely prescribes certain bounds, that is, certain articles of faith, which she holds essential to the integrity of the Christian faith ; within these she also recognizes the fullest individual liberty. You are free to interpret as you will, so long as you advance nothing which is contra fidem ; and you yourselves say no more than this. But where, on your principles, is the authority that prescribes the bounds beyond which one cannot pass without passing out of Christianity"
They are prescribed by Christianity itself.” “ But what is Christianity? By what authority is this question answered"? "
“ By the Bible.'
5. True ; but the Bible as construed by the private reason of each interpreter.”
“ The Bible is so plain, so unequivocal, that no man who respects its authority can possibly mistake the point where Christianity ends and infidelity begins.” " So you say
If you give to the language of the Bible its traditionary sense, I agree with you ; but that sense condemns you. If you give to the Bible the sense each chooses to give for himself, then I disagree with you ; for then the sense of the language of the Bible is indeterminate, and can be only what each determines it to be for himself.”
“But you deny the Bible itself.”
“ I do no such thing. I hold it to be the greatest of books. I may deny it in your sense ; but I admit it in mine, and you admit it only in yours.”
“ Yet you deny its inspiration."
“ Not at all. It is the product of the purest, deepest, loftiest inspirations ever experienced by the human soul."
“But you deny its Divine inspiration.”
“ I do not. I believe it Divinely inspired. All that is true, pure, deep, and noble in human life is from God. God speaks in every true thought, in every pure affection, in every lofty aspiration, in every noble deed.” "
“ Very fine, and answers admirably the purpose of throwing dust in the eyes of the simple and ignorant. Yet you deny the supernatural inspiration of the Bible."
“ That depends on the sense in which you use the word supernatural. If you mean by it that God himself inspired the authors of the Bible, I agree with you. If you mean something else, I cannot answer, till I know what you do mean."
“ But you do not hold that they were infallibly inspired.”
“ Nor do you; for you have written books not a few to prove that the sacred writers could and did err."
“ But you deny the authority of the sacred writers."
“ When they err, but not when they tell the truth ; and what more can you yourselves say?"
" You deny the miracles."
“And so do you, in part at least ; and you might as well deny those you retain as those you reject. Moreover, mira
cles are not Christianity; at most, they are only a branch of its evidence. And what difference can it make, whether one believes it on the authority of miracles, or on some other kind of evidence ?"
“ If you deny the miracles, you have no sufficient evidence for believing it."
“ Appropriate enough in the mouth of a Catholic contending for mysteries, but strangely misplaced in the mouth of a Unitarian, who professes to believe that Christianity is reasonable and rational! The doctrine is its own evidence ; and the rule is, to conclude from the truth of the doctrine to its Divine origin, and not the reverse.”
“You reject the sacraments, and sneer at those who are so weak as to derive strength and comfort from the Lord's Supper."
“ You yourselves also reject the sacraments in the sacramental sense ; and the two, of the seven observed by the Church, which you nominally retain, you retain merely as rites or ceremonies. Even you yourselves do not contend that rites or ceremonies are essential to Christianity. In rejecting them, I reject, then, nothing essential, yourselves being judges. As for ihe sneering, all I have to say is, if any of you are weak enough, superstitious enough, to fancy you can be spiritually strengthened and comforted by the empty ceremony of taking a bit of bread and a sip of wine, you deserve to be sneered at, at least to be compassionated."
In our judgment, Mr. Parker has decidedly the advantage in the argument. We do not presume the Unitarians ever intended to lay down principles which should render it impossible to trace the boundary between their doctrines and infidelity. We believe they honestly, as a body, mean to be Christians, and no doubt, in their way, try to be Christians; but in vindicating their own dissent from the general faith of Christendom, they have been forced to lay down principles and adopt a line of argument as available for Theodore Parker as for themselves. They could defend themselves only by discarding all doctrinal tests, that is, all creeds or confessions; and if they discard all doctrinal tests, they cannot withdraw or withhold fellowship from Mr. Parker as a Christian teacher, without standing selfcondemned before the world. But they have too much respect for Christianity to fellowship one who so undeniably rejects every thing distinctive, venerable, or valuable in the Gospel.