History of the Conflict
Religion and Science


Chapter VIII.

Conflict Respecting The Criterion of Truth.

Ancient philosophy declares that man has no means of ascertaining the truth.

Differences of belief arise among the early Christians -- An ineffectual attempt is made to remedy them by Councils. -- Miracle and ordeal proof introduced.

The papacy resorts to auricular confession and the Inquisition. -- It perpetrates frightful atrocities for the suppression of differences of opinion.

Effect of the discovery of the Pandects of Justinian and development of the canon law on the nature of evidence. -- It becomes more scientific.

The Reformation establishes the rights of individual reason. -- Catholicism asserts that the criterion of truth is in the Church. It restrains the reading of books by the Index Expurgatorius, and combats dissent by such means as the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve.

Examination of the authenticity of the Pentateuch as the Protestant criterion. -- Spurious character of those books.

For Science the criterion of truth is to be found in the revelations of Nature: for the Protestant, it is in the Scriptures; for the Catholic, in an infallible Pope.


"What is truth?" was the passionate demand of a Roman procurator on one of the most momentous occasions in history. And the Divine Person who stood before him, to whom the interrogation was addressed, made no reply -- unless, indeed, silence contained the reply.

Often and vainly had that demand been made before -- often and vainly has it been made since. No one has yet given a satisfactory answer.

When, at the dawn of science in Greece, the ancient religion was disappearing like a mist at sunrise, the pious and thoughtful men of that country were thrown into a condition of intellectual despair. Anaxagoras plaintively exclaims, "Nothing can be known, nothing can be learned, nothing can be certain, sense is limited, intellect is weak, life is short." Xenophanes tells us that it is impossible for us to be certain even when we utter the truth. Parmenides declares that the very constitution of man prevents him from ascertaining absolute truth. Empedocles affirms that all philosophical and religious systems must be unreliable, because we have no criterion by which to test them. Democritus asserts that even things that are true cannot impart certainty to us; that the final result of human inquiry is the discovery that man is incapable of absolute knowledge; that, even if the truth be in his possession, he cannot be certain of it. Pyrrho bids us reflect on the necessity of suspending our judgment of things, since we have no criterion of truth; so deep a distrust did he impart to his followers, that they were in the habit of saying, "We assert nothing; no, not even that we assert nothing." Epicurus taught his disciples that truth can never be determined by reason. Arcesilaus, denying both intellectual and sensuous knowledge, publicly avowed that he knew nothing, not even his own ignorance! The general conclusion to which Greek philosophy came was this -- that, in view of the contradiction of the evidence of the senses, we cannot distinguish the true from the false; and such is the imperfection of reason, that we cannot affirm the correctness of any philosophical deduction.

It might be supposed that a revelation from God to man would come with such force and clearness as to settle all uncertainties and overwhelm all opposition. A Greek philosopher, less despairing than others, had ventured to affirm that the coexistence of two forms of faith, both claiming to be revealed by the omnipotent God, proves that neither of them is true. But let us remember that it is difficult for men to come to the same conclusion as regards even material and visible things, unless they stand at the same point of view. If discord and distrust were the condition of philosophy three hundred years before the birth of Christ, discord and distrust were the condition of religion three hundred years after his death. This is what Hilary, the Bishop of Poictiers, in his well-known passage written about the time of the Nicene Council, says:

"It is a thing equally deplorable and dangerous that there are, as many creeds as opinions among men, as many doctrines as inclinations, and as many sources of blasphemy as there are faults among us, because we make creeds arbitrarily and explain them as arbitrarily. Every year, nay, every moon, we make new creeds to describe invisible mysteries; we repent of what we have done; we defend those who repent; we anathematize those whom we defend; we condemn either the doctrines of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others; and, reciprocally tearing each other to pieces, we have been the cause of each other's ruin."

The Criterion of Truth.

These are not mere words; but the import of this self-accusation can be realized fully only by such as are familiar with the ecclesiastical history of those times. As soon as the first fervor of Christianity as a system of benevolence had declined, dissensions appeared. Ecclesiastical historians assert that "as early as the second century began the contest between faith and reason, religion and philosophy, piety and genius." To compose these dissensions, to obtain some authoritative expression, some criterion of truth, assemblies for consultation were resorted to, which eventually took the form of councils. For a long time they had nothing more than an advisory authority; but, when, in the fourth century, Christianity had attained to imperial rule, their dictates became compulsory, being enforced by the civil power. By this the whole face of the Church was changed. Œcumenical councils -- parliaments of Christianity -- consisting of delegates from all the churches in the world, were summoned by the authority of the emperor; he presided either personally or nominally in them -- composed all differences, and was, in fact, the Pope of Christendom. Mosheim, the historian, to whom I have more particularly referred above, speaking of these times, remarks that "there was nothing to exclude the ignorant from ecclesiastical preferment; the savage and illiterate party, who looked on all kinds of learning, particularly philosophy, as pernicious to piety, was increasing;" and, accordingly, "the disputes carried on in the Council of Nicea offered a remarkable example of the greatest ignorance and utter confusion of ideas, particularly in the language and explanations of those who approved of the decisions of that council." Vast as its influence has been, "the ancient critics are neither agreed concerning the time nor place in which it was assembled, the number of those who sat in it, nor the bishop who presided. No authentic acts of its famous sentence have been committed to writing, or, at least, none have been transmitted to our times." The Church had now become what, in the language of modern politicians, would be called "a confederated republic." The will of the council was determined by a majority vote, and, to secure that, all manner of intrigues and impositions were resorted to; the influence of court females, bribery, and violence, were not spared. The Council of Nicea had scarcely adjourned, when it was plain to all impartial men that, as a method of establishing a criterion of truth in religious matters, such councils were a total failure. The minority had no rights which the majority need respect. The protest of many good men, that a mere majority vote given by delegates, whose right to vote had never been examined and authorized, could not be received as ascertaining absolute truth, was passed over with contempt, and the consequence was, that council was assembled against council, and their jarring and contradictory decrees spread perplexity and confusion throughout the Christian world. In the fourth century alone there were thirteen councils adverse to Arius, fifteen in his favor, and seventeen for the semi-Arians -- in all, forty-five. Minorities were perpetually attempting to use the weapon which majorities had abused.

The impartial ecclesiastical historian above quoted, moreover, says that "two monstrous and calamitous errors were adopted in this fourth century: 1. That it was an act of virtue to deceive and lie when, by that means, the interests of the Church might be promoted. 2. That errors in religion, when maintained and adhered to after proper admonition, were punishable with civil penalties and corporal tortures."

The Council of Nicea.

Not without astonishment can we look back at what, in those times, were popularly regarded as criteria of truth. Doctrines were considered as established by the number of martyrs who had professed them, by miracles, by the confession of demons, of lunatics, or of persons possessed of evil spirits: thus, St. Ambrose, in his disputes with the Arians, produced men possessed by devils, who, on the approach of the relics of certain martyrs, acknowledged, with loud cries, that the Nicean doctrine of the three persons of the Godhead was true. But the Arians charged him with suborning these infernal witnesses with a weighty bribe. Already, ordeal tribunals were making their appearance. During the following six centuries they were held as a final resort for establishing guilt or innocence, under the forms of trial by cold water, by duel, by the fire, by the cross.

What an utter ignorance of the nature of evidence and its laws have we here! An accused man sinks or swims when thrown into a pond of water; he is burnt or escapes unharmed when he holds a piece of red-hot iron in his hand; a champion whom he has hired is vanquished or vanquishes in single fight; he can keep his arms outstretched like a cross, or fails to do so longer than his accuser, and his innocence or guilt of some imputed crime is established! Are these criteria of truth?

Is it surprising that all Europe was filled with imposture miracles during those ages? -- miracles that are a disgrace to the common-sense of man!

Truth Determined by Miracles.

But the inevitable day came at length. Assertions and doctrines based upon such preposterous evidence were involved in the discredit that fell upon the evidence itself. As the thirteenth century is approached, we find unbelief in all directions setting in. First, it is plainly seen among the monastic orders, then it spreads rapidly among the common people. Books, such as "The Everlasting Gospel," appear among the former; sects, such as the Catharists, Waldenses, Petrobrussians, arise among the latter. They agreed in this, "that the public and established religion was a motley system of errors and superstitions, and that the dominion which the pope had usurped over Christians was unlawful and tyrannical; that the claim put forth by Rome, that the Bishop of Rome is the supreme lord of the universe, and that neither princes nor bishops, civil governors nor ecclesiastical rulers, have any lawful power in church or state but what they receive from him, is utterly without foundation, and a usurpation of the rights of man."

To withstand this flood of impiety, the papal government established two institutions: 1. The Inquisition; 2. Auricular confession -- the latter as a means of detection, the former as a tribunal for punishment.

Auricular Confession and the Inquisition.

In general terms, the commission of the Inquisition was, to extirpate religious dissent by terrorism, and surround heresy with the most horrible associations; this necessarily implied the power of determining what constitutes heresy. The criterion of truth was thus in possession of this tribunal, which was charged "to discover and bring to judgment heretics lurking in towns, houses, cellars, woods, caves, and fields." With such savage alacrity did it carry out its object of protecting the interests of religion, that between 1481 and 1808 it had punished three hundred and forty thousand persons, and of these nearly thirty-two thousand had been burnt! In its earlier days, when public opinion could find no means of protesting against its atrocities, "it often put to death, without appeal, on the very day that they were accused, nobles, clerks, monks, hermits, and lay persons of every rank." In whatever direction thoughtful men looked, the air was full of fearful shadows. No one could indulge in freedom of thought without expecting punishment. So dreadful were the proceedings of the Inquisition, that the exclamation of Pagliarici was the exclamation of thousands: "It is hardly possible for a man to be a Christian, and die in his bed."

The Inquisition destroyed the sectaries of Southern France in the thirteenth century. Its unscrupulous atrocities extirpated Protestantism in Italy and Spain. Nor did it confine itself to religious affairs; it engaged in the suppression of political discontent. Nicolas Eymeric, who was inquisitor-general of the kingdom of Aragon for nearly fifty years, and who died in 1399, has left a frightful statement of its conduct and appalling cruelties in his "Directorium Inquisitorum."

This disgrace of Christianity, and indeed of the human race, had different constitutions in different countries. The papal Inquisition continued the tyranny, and eventually superseded the old episcopal inquisitions. The authority of the bishops was unceremoniously put aside by the officers of the pope.

By the action of the fourth Lateran Council, A. D. 1215, the power of the Inquisition was frightfully increased, the necessity of private confession to a priest -- auricular confession -- being at that time formally established. This, so far as domestic life was concerned, gave omnipresence and omniscience to the Inquisition. Not a man was safe. In the hands of the priest, who, at the confessional, could extract or extort from them their most secret thoughts, his wife and his servants were turned into spies. Summoned before the dread tribunal, he was simply informed that he lay under strong suspicions of heresy. No accuser was named; but the thumb-screw, the stretching-rope, the boot and wedge, or other enginery of torture, soon supplied that defect, and, innocent or guilty, he accused himself!

Effects of the Inquisition.

Notwithstanding all this power, the Inquisition failed of its purpose. When the heretic could no longer confront it, he evaded it. A dismal disbelief stealthily pervaded all Europe, -- a denial of Providence, of the immortality of the soul, of human free-will, and that man can possibly resist the absolute necessity, the destiny which envelops him. Ideas such as these were cherished in silence by multitudes of persons driven to them by the tyrannical acts of ecclesiasticism. In spite of persecution, the Waldenses still survived to propagate their declaration that the Roman Church, since Constantine, had degenerated from its purity and sanctity; to protest against the sale of indulgences, which they said had nearly abolished prayer, fasting, alms; to affirm that it was utterly useless to pray for the souls of the dead, since they must already have gone either to heaven or hell. Though it was generally believed that philosophy or science was pernicious to the interests of Christianity or true piety, the Mohammedan literature then prevailing in Spain was making converts among all classes of society. We see very plainly its influence in many of the sects that then arose; thus, "the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit" held that "the universe came by emanation from God, and would finally return to him by absorption; that rational souls are so many portions of the Supreme Deity; and that the universe, considered as one great whole, is God." These are ideas that can only be entertained in an advanced intellectual condition. Of this sect it is said that many suffered burning with unclouded serenity, with triumphant feelings of cheerfulness and joy. Their orthodox enemies accused them of gratifying their passions at midnight assemblages in darkened rooms, to which both sexes in a condition of nudity repaired. A similar accusation, as is well known, was brought against the primitive Christians by the fashionable society of Rome.

The influences of the Averroistic philosophy were apparent in many of these sects. That Mohammedan system, considered from a Christian point of view, led to the heretical belief that the end of the precepts of Christianity is the union of the soul with the Supreme Being; that God and Nature have the same relations to each other as the soul and the body; that there is but one individual intelligence; and that one soul performs all the spiritual and rational functions in all the human race. When, subsequently, toward the time of the Reformation, the Italian Averroists were required by the Inquisition to give an account of themselves, they attempted to show that there is a wide distinction between philosophical and religious truth; that things may be philosophically true, and yet theologically false -- an exculpatory device condemned at length by the Lateran Council in the time of Leo X.

But, in spite of auricular confession, and the Inquisition, these heretical tendencies survived. It has been truly said that, at the epoch of the Reformation, there lay concealed, in many parts of Europe, persons who entertained the most virulent enmity against Christianity. In this pernicious class were many Aristotelians, such as Pomponatius; many philosophers and wits, such as Bodin, Rabelais, Montaigne; many Italians, as Leo X., Bembo, Bruno.

The Pandects of Justinian.

Miracle-evidence began to fall into discredit during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The sarcasms of the Hispano-Moorish philosophers had forcibly drawn the attention of many of the more enlightened ecclesiastics to its illusory nature. The discovery of the Pandects of Justinian, at Amalfi, in 1130, doubtless exerted a very powerful influence in promoting the study of Roman jurisprudence, and disseminating better notions as to the character of legal or philosophical evidence. Hallam has cast some doubt on the well-known story of this discovery, but he admits that the celebrated copy in the Laurentian library, at Florence, is the only one containing the entire fifty books. Twenty years subsequently, the monk Gratian collected together the various papal edicts, the canons of councils, the declarations of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, in a volume called "The Decretum," considered as the earliest authority in canon law. In the next century Gregory IX. published five books of Decretals, and Boniface VIII. subsequently added a sixth. To these followed the Clementine Constitutions, a seventh book of Decretals, and "A Book of Institutes," published together, by Gregory XIII., in 1580, under the title of "Corpus Juris Canonici." The canon law had gradually gained enormous power through the control it had obtained over wills, the guardianship of orphans, marriages, and divorces.

The Decretals.

The rejection of miracle-evidence, and the substitution of legal evidence in its stead, accelerated the approach of the Reformation. No longer was it possible to admit the requirement which, in former days, Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his treatise, "Cur Deus Homo," had enforced, that we must first believe without examination, and may afterward endeavor to understand what we have thus believed. When Cajetan said to Luther, "Thou must believe that one single drop of Christ's blood is sufficient to redeem the whole human race, and the remaining quantity that was shed in the garden and on the cross was left as a legacy to the pope, to be a treasure from which indulgences were to be drawn," the soul of the sturdy German monk revolted against such a monstrous assertion, nor would he have believed it though a thousand miracles had been worked in its support. This shameful practice of selling indulgences for the commission of sin originated among the bishops, who, when they had need of money for their private pleasures, obtained it in that way. Abbots and monks, to whom this gainful commerce was denied, raised funds by carrying about relics in solemn procession, and charging a fee for touching them. The popes, in their pecuniary straits, perceiving how lucrative the practice might become, deprived the bishops of the right of making such sales, and appropriated it to themselves, establishing agencies, chiefly among the mendicant orders, for the traffic. Among these orders there was a sharp competition, each boasting of the superior value of its indulgences through its greater influence at the court of heaven, its familiar connection with the Virgin Mary and the saints in glory. Even against Luther himself, who had been an Augustinian monk, a calumny was circulated that he was first alienated from the Church by a traffic of this kind having been conferred on the Dominicans, instead of on his own order, at the time when Leo X. was raising funds by this means for building St. Peter's, at Rome, A. D. 1517. and there is reason to think that Leo himself, in the earlier stages of the Reformation, attached weight to that allegation.

Indulgences were thus the immediate inciting cause of the Reformation, but very soon there came into light the real principle that was animating the controversy. It lay in the question, Does the Bible owe its authenticity to the Church? or does the Church owe her authenticity to the Bible? Where is the criterion of truth?

It is not necessary for me here to relate the well-known particulars of that controversy, the desolating wars and scenes of blood to which it gave rise: how Luther posted on the door of the cathedral of Wittemberg ninety-five theses, and was summoned to Rome to answer for his offense; how he appealed from the pope, ill-informed at the time, to the pope when he should have been better instructed; how he was condemned as a heretic, and thereupon appealed to a general council; how, through the disputes about purgatory, transubstantiation, auricular confession, absolution, the fundamental idea which lay at the bottom of the whole movement came into relief, the right of individual judgment; how Luther was now excommunicated, A. D. 1520, and in defiance burnt the bull of excommunication and the volumes of the canon law, which he denounced as aiming at the subversion of all civil government, and the exaltation of the papacy; how by this skillful manœuvre he brought over many of the German princes to his views; how, summoned before the Imperial Diet at Worms, he refused to retract, and, while he was bidden in the castle of Wartburg, his doctrines were spreading, and a reformation under Zwingli broke out in Switzerland; how the principle of sectarian decomposition embedded in the movement gave rise to rivalries and dissensions between the Germans and the Swiss, and even divided the latter among themselves under the leadership of Zwingli and of Calvin; how the Conference of Marburg, the Diet of Spires, and that at Augsburg, failed to compose the troubles, and eventually the German Reformation assumed a political organization at Smalcalde. The quarrels between the Lutherans and the Calvinists gave hopes to Rome that she might recover her losses.

Leo was not slow to discern that the Lutheran Reformation was something more serious than a squabble among some monks about the profits of indulgence-sales, and the papacy set itself seriously at work to overcome the revolters. It instigated the frightful wars that for so many years desolated Europe, and left animosities which neither the Treaty of Westphalia, nor the Council of Trent after eighteen years of debate, could compose. No one can read without a shudder the attempts that were made to extend the Inquisition in foreign countries. All Europe, Catholic and Protestant, was horror-stricken at the Huguenot massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve (A. D. 1572). For perfidy and atrocity it has no equal in the annals of the world.

The desperate attempt in which the papacy had been engaged to put down its opponents by instigating civil wars, massacres, and assassinations, proved to be altogether abortive. Nor had the Council of Trent any better result. Ostensibly summoned to correct, illustrate, and fix with perspicacity the doctrine of the Church, to restore the vigor of its discipline, and to reform the lives of its ministers, it was so manipulated that a large majority of its members were Italians, and under the influence of the pope. Hence the Protestants could not possibly accept its decisions.

The issue of the Reformation was the acceptance by all the Protestant Churches of the dogma that the Bible is a sufficient guide for every Christian man. Tradition was rejected, and the right of private interpretation assured. It was thought that the criterion of truth had at length been obtained.

The Reformation.

The authority thus imputed to the Scriptures was not restricted to matters of a purely religious or moral kind; it extended over philosophical facts and to the interpretation of Nature. Many went as far as in the old times Epiphanius had done: he believed that the Bible contained a complete system of mineralogy! The Reformers would tolerate no science that was not in accordance with Genesis. Among them there were many who maintained that religion and piety could never flourish unless separated from learning and science. The fatal maxim that the Bible contained the sum and substance of all knowledge, useful or possible to man -- a maxim employed with such pernicious effect of old by Tertullian and by St. Augustine, and which had so often been enforced by papal authority -- was still strictly insisted upon. The leaders of the Reformation, Luther and Melanchthon, were determined to banish philosophy from the Church. Luther declared that the study of Aristotle is wholly useless; his vilification of that Greek philosopher knew no bounds. He is, says Luther, "truly a devil, a horrid calumniator, a wicked sycophant, a prince of darkness, a real Apollyon, a beast, a most horrid impostor on mankind, one in whom there is scarcely any philosophy, a public and professed liar, a goat, a complete epicure, this twice execrable Aristotle." The schoolmen were, so Luther said, "locusts, caterpillars, frogs, lice." He entertained an abhorrence for them. These opinions, though not so emphatically expressed, were entertained by Calvin. So far as science is concerned, nothing is owed to the Reformation. The Procrustean bed of the Pentateuch was still before her.

In the annals of Christianity the most ill-omened day is that in which she separated herself from science. She compelled Origen, at that time (A. D. 231) its chief representative and supporter in the Church, to abandon his charge in Alexandria, and retire to Cæsarea. In vain through many subsequent centuries did her leading men spend themselves in -- as the phrase then went -- "drawing forth the internal juice and marrow of the Scriptures for the explaining of things." Universal history from the third to the sixteenth century shows with what result. The dark ages owe their darkness to this fatal policy. Here and there, it is true, there were great men, such as Frederick II. and Alphonso X., who, standing at a very elevated and general point of view, had detected the value of learning to civilization, and, in the midst of the dreary prospect that ecclesiasticism had created around them, had recognized that science alone can improve the social condition of man.


The infliction of the death-punishment for difference of opinion was still resorted to. When Calvin caused Servetus to be burnt at Geneva, it was obvious to every one that the spirit of persecution was unimpaired. The offense of that philosopher lay in his belief. This was, that the genuine doctrines of Christianity had been lost even before the time of the Council of Nicea; that the Holy Ghost animates the whole system of Nature, like a soul of the world, and that, with the Christ, it will be absorbed, at the end of all things, into the substance of the Deity, from which they had emanated. For this he was roasted to death over a slow fire. Was there any distinction between this Protestant auto-da-fe and the Catholic one of Vanini, who was burnt at Toulouse, by the Inquisition, in 1629, for his "Dialogues concerning Nature?"

The invention of printing, the dissemination of books, had introduced a class of dangers which the persecution of the Inquisition could not reach. In 1559, Pope Paul IV. instituted the Congregation of the Index Expurgatorius. "Its duty is to examine books and manuscripts intended for publication, and to decide whether the people may be permitted to read them; to correct those books of which the errors are not numerous, and which contain certain useful and salutary truths, so as to bring them into harmony with the doctrines of the Church; to condemn those of which the principles are heretical and pernicious; and to grant the peculiar privilege of perusing heretical books to certain persons. This congregation, which is sometimes held in presence of the pope, but generally in the palace of the Cardinal-president, has a more extensive jurisdiction than that of the Inquisition, as it not only takes cognizance of those books that contain doctrines contrary to the Roman Catholic faith, but of those that concern the duties of morality, the discipline of the Church, the interests of society. Its name is derived from the alphabetical tables or indexes of heretical books and authors composed by its appointment."


The Index Expurgatorius of prohibited books at first indicated those works which it was unlawful to read; but, on this being found insufficient, whatever was not permitted was prohibited -- an audacious attempt to prevent all knowledge, except such as suited the purposes of the Church, from reaching the people.

The two rival divisions of the Christian Church -- Protestant and Catholic -- were thus in accord on one point: to tolerate no science except such as they considered to be agreeable to the Scriptures. The Catholic, being in possession of centralized power, could make its decisions respected wherever its sway was acknowledged, and enforce the monitions of the Index Expurgatorius; the Protestant, whose influence was diffused among many foci in different nations, could not act in such a direct and resolute manner. Its mode of procedure was, by raising a theological odium against an offender, to put him under a social ban -- a course perhaps not less effectual than the other.

The Index Expurgatorius.

As we have seen in former chapters, an antagonism between religion and science had existed from the earliest days of Christianity. On every occasion permitting its display it may be detected through successive centuries. We witness it in the downfall of the Alexandrian Museum, in the cases of Erigena and Wiclif, in the contemptuous rejection by the heretics of the thirteenth century of the Scriptural account of the Creation; but it was not until the epoch of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, that the efforts of Science to burst from the thraldom in which she was fettered became uncontrollable. In all countries the political power of the Church had greatly declined; her leading men perceived that the cloudy foundation on which she had stood was dissolving away. Repressive measures against her antagonists, in old times resorted to with effect, could be no longer advantageously employed. To her interests the burning of a philosopher here and there did more harm than good. In her great conflict with astronomy, a conflict in which Galileo stands as the central figure, she received an utter overthrow; and, as we have seen, when the immortal work of Newton was printed, she could offer no resistance, though Leibnitz affirmed, in the face of Europe, that "Newton had robbed the Deity of some of his most excellent attributes, and had sapped the foundation of natural religion."

From the time of Newton to our own time, the divergence of science from the dogmas of the Church has continually increased. The Church declared that the earth is the central and most important body in the universe; that the sun and moon and stars are tributary to it. On these points she was worsted by astronomy. She affirmed that a universal deluge had covered the earth; that the only surviving animals were such as had been saved in an ark. In this her error was established by geology. She taught that there was a first man, who, some six or eight thousand years ago, was suddenly created or called into existence in a condition of physical and moral perfection, and from that condition he fell. But anthropology has shown that human beings existed far back in geological time, and in a savage state but little better than that of the brute.

The Scriptures the Standard of Science.

Many good and well-meaning men have attempted to reconcile the statements of Genesis with the discoveries of science, but it is in vain. The divergence has increased so much, that it has become an absolute opposition. One of the antagonists must give way.

May we not, then, be permitted to examine the authenticity of this book, which, since the second century, has been put forth as the criterion of scientific truth? To maintain itself in a position so exalted, it must challenge human criticism.

In the early Christian ages, many of the most eminent Fathers of the Church had serious doubts respecting the authorship of the entire Pentateuch. I have not space, in the limited compass of these pages, to present in detail the facts and arguments that were then and have since been adduced. The literature of the subject is now very extensive. I may, however, refer the reader to the work of the pious and learned Dean Prideaux, on "The Old and New Testament connected," a work which is one of the literary ornaments of the last century. He will also find the subject more recently and exhaustively discussed by Bishop Colenso. The following paragraphs will convey a sufficiently distinct impression of the present state of the controversy:

The Pentateuch is affirmed to have been written by Moses, under the influence of divine inspiration. Considered thus, as a record vouchsafed and dictated by the Almighty, it commands not only scientific but universal consent.

But here, in the first place, it may be demanded, Who or what is it that has put forth this great claim in its behalf?

Not the work itself. It nowhere claims the authorship of one man, or makes the impious declaration that it is the writing of Almighty God.

Not until after the second century was there any such extravagant demand on human credulity. It originated, not among the higher ranks of Christian philosophers, but among the more fervid Fathers of the Church, whose own writings prove them to have been unlearned and uncritical persons.

Every age, from the second century to our times, has offered men of great ability, both Christian and Jewish, who have altogether repudiated these claims. Their decision has been founded upon the intrinsic evidence of the books themselves. These furnish plain indications of at least two distinct authors, who have been respectively termed Elohistic and Jehovistic. Hupfeld maintains that the Jehovistic narrative bears marks of having been a second original record, wholly independent of the Elohistic. The two sources from which the narratives have been derived are, in many respects, contradictory of each other. Moreover, it is asserted that the books of the Pentateuch are never ascribed to Moses in the inscriptions of Hebrew manuscripts, or in printed copies of the Hebrew Bible, nor are they styled "Books of Moses" in the Septuagint or Vulgate, but only in modern translations.

It is clear that they cannot be imputed to the sole authorship of Moses, since they record his death. It is clear that they were not written until many hundred years after that event, since they contain references to facts which did not occur until after the establishment of the government of kings among the Jews.

No man may dare to impute them to the inspiration of Almighty God -- their inconsistencies, incongruities, contradictions, and impossibilities, as exposed by many learned and pious moderns, both German and English, are so great. It is the decision of these critics that Genesis is a narrative based upon legends; that Exodus is not historically true; that the whole Pentateuch is unhistoric and non-Mosaic; it contains the most extraordinary contradictions and impossibilities, sufficient to involve the credibility of the whole -- imperfections so many and so conspicuous that they would destroy the authenticity of any modern historical work.

Hengstenberg, in his "Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch," says: "It is the unavoidable fate of a spurious historical work of any length to be involved in contradictions. This must be the case to a very great extent with the Pentateuch, if it be not genuine. If the Pentateuch is spurious, its histories and laws have been fabricated in successive portions, and were committed to writing in the course of many centuries by different individuals. From such a mode of origination, a mass of contradictions is inseparable, and the improving hand of a later editor could never be capable of entirely obliterating them."

To the above conclusions I may add that we are expressly told by Ezra (Esdras ii. 14) that he himself, aided by five other persons, wrote these books in the space of forty days. He says that at the time of the Babylonian captivity the ancient sacred writings of the Jews were burnt, and gives a particular detail of the circumstances under which these were composed. He sets forth that he undertook to write all that had been done in the world since the beginning. It may be said that the books of Esdras are apocryphal, but in return it may be demanded, Has that conclusion been reached on evidence that will withstand modern criticism? In the early ages of Christianity, when the story of the fall of man was not considered as essential to the Christian system, and the doctrine of the atonement had not attained that precision which Anselm eventually gave it, it was very generally admitted by the Fathers of the Church that Ezra probably did so compose the Pentateuch. Thus St. Jerome says, "Sive Mosem dicere volueris auctorem Pentateuchi, sive Esdram ejusdem instauratorem operis, non recuso." Clemens Alexandrinus says that when these books had been destroyed in the captivity of Nebuchadnezzar, Esdras, having become inspired prophetically, reproduced them. Irenæus says the same.

The incidents contained in Genesis, from the first to the tenth chapters inclusive (chapters which, in their bearing upon science, are of more importance than other portions of the Pentateuch), have been obviously compiled from short, fragmentary legends of various authorship. To the critical eye they all, however, present peculiarities which demonstrate that they were written on the banks of the Euphrates, and not in the Desert of Arabia. They contain many Chaldaisms. An Egyptian would not speak of the Mediterranean Sea as being west of him, an Assyrian would. Their scenery and machinery, if such expressions may with propriety be used, are altogether Assyrian, not Egyptian. They were such records as one might expect to meet with in the cuneiform impressions of the tile libraries of the Mesopotamian kings. It is affirmed that one such legend, that of the Deluge, has already been exhumed, and it is not beyond the bounds of probability that the remainder may in like manner be obtained.

The Pentateuch.

From such Assyrian sources, the legends of the creation of the earth and heaven, the garden of Eden, the making of man from clay, and of woman from one of his ribs, the temptation by the serpent, the naming of animals, the cherubim and flaming sword, the Deluge and the ark, the drying up of the waters by the wind, the building of the Tower of Babel, and the confusion of tongues, were obtained by Ezra. He commences abruptly the proper history of the Jews in the eleventh chapter. At that point his universal history ceases; he occupies himself with the story of one family, the descendants of Shem.

Assyrian Tile Records.

It is of this restriction that the Duke of Argyll, in his book on "Primeval Man," very graphically says: "In the genealogy of the family of Shem we have a list of names which are names, and nothing more to us. It is a genealogy which neither does, nor pretends to do, more than to trace the order of succession among a few families only, out of the millions then already existing in the world. Nothing but this order of succession is given, nor is it at all certain that this order is consecutive or complete. Nothing is told us of all that lay behind that curtain of thick darkness, in front of which these names are made to pass; and yet there are, as it were, momentary liftings, through which we have glimpses of great movements which were going on, and had been long going on beyond. No shapes are distinctly seen. Even the direction of those movements can only be guessed. But voices are heard which are as the voices of many waters." I agree in the opinion of Hupfeld, that "the discovery that the Pentateuch is put together out of various sources, or original documents, is beyond all doubt not only one of the most important and most pregnant with consequences for the interpretation of the historical books of the Old Testament, or rather for the whole of theology and history, but it is also one of the most certain discoveries which have been made in the domain of criticism and the history of literature. Whatever the anticritical party may bring forward to the contrary, it will maintain itself, and not retrograde again through any thing, so long as there exists such a thing as criticism; and it will not be easy for a reader upon the stage of culture on which we stand in the present day, if he goes to the examination unprejudiced, and with an uncorrupted power of appreciating the truth, to be able to ward off its influence."

Diverse Authorship of the Pentateuch.

What then? shall we give up these books? Does not the admission that the narrative of the fall in Eden is legendary carry with it the surrender of that most solemn and sacred of Christian doctrines, the atonement?

Let us reflect on this! Christianity, in its earliest days, when it was converting and conquering the world, knew little or nothing about that doctrine. We have seen that, in his "Apology," Tertullian did not think it worth his while to mention it. It originated among the Gnostic heretics. It was not admitted by the Alexandrian theological school. It was never prominently advanced by the Fathers. It was not brought into its present commanding position until the time of Anselm. Philo Judæus speaks of the story of the fall as symbolical; Origen regarded it as an allegory. Perhaps some of the Protestant churches may, with reason, be accused of inconsistency, since in part they consider it as mythical, in part real. But, if, with them, we admit that the serpent is symbolical of Satan, does not that cast an air of allegory over the whole narrative?

It is to be regretted that the Christian Church has burdened itself with the defense of these books, and voluntarily made itself answerable for their manifest contradictions and errors. Their vindication, if it were possible, should have been resigned to the Jews, among whom they originated, and by whom they have been transmitted to us. Still more, it is to be deeply regretted that the Pentateuch, a production so imperfect as to be unable to stand the touch of modern criticism, should be put forth as the arbiter of science. Let it be remembered that the exposure of the true character of these books has been made, not by captious enemies, but by pious and learned churchmen, some of them of the highest dignity.

While thus the Protestant churches have insisted on the acknowledgment of the Scriptures as the criterion of truth, the Catholic has, in our own times, declared the infallibility of the pope. It may be said that this infallibility applies only to moral or religious things; but where shall the line of separation be drawn? Onmiscience cannot be limited to a restricted group of questions; in its very nature it implies the knowledge of all, and infallibility means omniscience.

Doubtless, if the fundamental principles of Italian Christianity be admitted, their logical issue is an infallible pope. There is no need to dwell on the unphilosophical nature of this conception; it is destroyed by an examination of the political history of the papacy, and the biography of the popes. The former exhibits all the errors and mistakes to which institutions of a confessedly human character have been found liable; the latter is only too frequently a story of sin and shame.

It was not possible that the authoritative promulgation of the dogma of papal infallibility should meet among enlightened Catholics universal acceptance. Serious and wide-spread dissent has been produced. A doctrine so revolting to common-sense could not find any other result. There are many who affirm that, if infallibility exists anywhere, it is in œcumenical councils, and yet such councils have not always agreed with each other. There are also many who remember that councils have deposed popes, and have passed judgment on their clamors and contentions. Not without reason do Protestants demand, What proof can be given that infallibility exists in the Church at all? what proof is there that the Church has ever been fairly or justly represented in any council? and why should the truth be ascertained by the vote of a majority rather than by that of a minority? How often it has happened that one man, standing at the right point of view, has descried the truth, and, after having been denounced and persecuted by all others, they have eventually been constrained to adopt his declarations! Of many great discoveries, has not this been the history?


It is not for Science to compose these contesting claims; it is not for her to determine whether the criterion of truth for the religious man shall be found in the Bible, or in the œcumenical council, or in the pope. She only asks the right, which she so willingly accords to others, of adopting a criterion of her own. If she regards unhistorical legends with disdain; if she considers the vote of a majority in the ascertainment of truth with supreme indifference; if she leaves the claim of infallibility in any human being to be vindicated by the stern logic of coming events -- the cold impassiveness which in these matters she maintains is what she displays toward her own doctrines. Without hesitation she would give up the theories of gravitation or undulations, if she found that they were irreconcilable with facts. For her the volume of inspiration is the book of Nature, of which the open scroll is ever spread forth before the eyes of every man. Confronting all, it needs no societies for its dissemination. Infinite in extent, eternal in duration, human ambition and human fanaticism have never been able to tamper with it. On the earth it is illustrated by all that is magnificent and beautiful, on the heavens its letters are suns and worlds.

The Volume of Nature.